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experiment in totality 


experiment in totality 

sibyl moholy-nagy 

with an introduction by waiter gropius 

harper & brothers publishers new york 

grateful acknowledgment is given to the following collections for per-, 
mission to reproduce paintings in their possession. Solomon R Guggen- 
heim Foundation (Figs 49, 58, 67), Ida Bienert, Munich (Fig 62} , 
Daniel Crowley, Peona, Illinois (Fig 68), Mrs Suzette Harmll-Zurcher, 
Lake Forest, Illinois (Fig 71), and The Art Institute of Chicago (Fig. 
77) The photographs were provided through the courtesy of. F 
Levstik, Jr, Lucia Moholy, Bartloucci, Pritchard of London, A It 
Smsabaugh, Arthur Siegel, Hedrich-Blessing Studio, The Saturday Eve* 
ning Post, The Art Institute of Chicago, and The School of Design? 
Photo Workshop 

moholy-nagy experiment in totality 

Copyright, 1950, by Harper & Brothers. Printed in the United States| 
of America. All rights in this book are reserved. No part of the bool^ 
may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written per-, 
mission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical!; 
articles and reviews. For information address Harper & Bi * 

first edition 

" and she tried to imagine what the flame of a candle looks like 
after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever 
having seen such a thing." 

Alice in Wonderland 


by waiter gropius, chairman, department of architecture, 
harvard university 

When I first saw the manuscript of this book I felt a certain appre- 
hension which, I think, was quite natural for one who is about to 
see the life and work of his close friend revealed to the public; a 
friend, moreover, whose activities were so intense!} connected 
with one of the most decisive periods of my own life. But soon I 
felt reassured as I became acquainted with this splendid and honest 
account of Moholy-Nagy's development from earl\ experiments to 
full maturity. Moholy was always in the public eye, yet most people 
saw only the more obvious milestones of achievement which 
crystallize into "news stories." The other story, the intimate and 
often bitter story of one man's struggle for fulfillment, has been 
up to now the precious possession of his friends and collaborators, 
and of his wife, who was certainly the most devoted. 

Looking back today, the difficult, contradictory and confusing 
years between the two World Wars, which form the background 
for the greater part of this book, seem to have provided a pitifully 
short time for a generation which approached its artistic endeavors 
with the zeal and enthusiasm released by the political change in 
Central Europe. But it was a period inspired by constructive ideas 
not as yet subjected to the blight of frustration which overshadows 
the world today. Those were the years of Moholy 's and my col- 
laboration in the Bauhaus of Weimar and Dessau, the development 
of which was deeply influenced by Moholy, the fiery stimulator. 

After the Nazi nightmare had caused us both to leave Germany, 
we saw each other again in England, and later in the United States 
where I was fortunate enough to secure his leadership for The 
New Bauhaus in Chicago, subsequently renamed the Institute of 
Design. As the Bauhaus principles had never been based on limited 
nationalistic concepts, its seeds could be transplanted and further 
developed in this country. Against heavy odds which might have 


discouraged a giant, Moholy managed to pull the Institute through 
difficult years, never losing his indomitable courage and confi- 
dence. And still he did not let himself become absorbed only in his 
educational work, extensive as it was, but simultaneously produced 
a wealth of art that embraces the whole range of the visual arts. 

His greatest effort as an artist was devoted to the conquest of 
space. His genius ventured into all realms of science and art to 
unriddle the phenomena of space and light. In painting, sculpture 
and architecture, in theater and industrial design, in photography 
and film, advertising and typography, he incessantly strove to 
interpret space in its relation to time, that is, motion in space. 

Constantly developing new ideas Moholy maintained an unbiased 
curiosity, from which originated his continually fresh point of 
view. With a shrewd sense of observation he investigated every- 
thing that came his way, taking nothing for granted, always 
applying his acute sense of the organic. His was the attitude of 
an unprejudiced, happy child at play, surprising us by the direct- 
ness of his intuitive approach. Here I believe was the source of 
his priceless quality as an educator: his never-ceasing power to 
stimulate and fire others with his enthusiasm. What more can 
true education achieve than setting the student's mind in motion 
by that contagious magic? 

Moholy has been successful simultaneously^ as thinker and artist,, 
as writer and teacher. That would seem to be almost too vast a 
range for one man, but abundant versatility was uniquely his. 
With his power of imagination he kept this broad variety of in- 
terests in balance. His vision took brilliant shortcuts, synchronizing: 
his observations into a consistent whole, for he was aware of the 
danger of today's over specialization which so often leads to* 

Moholy seems always to have been acutely conscious of the 
preciousness of time; he worked with dedicated zeal to realize his^ 
ideas as though driven by the recognition that the destructive 
tendencies of our time could be changed into constructive forces!; 
only by a universal, superhuman effort. He had convinced himself 
of the generative power of all art and he wanted to see that powerj 
liberated in each individual with whom he came in contact. Ha 
had molded himself into a world citizen who would not let his) 
v I i i " 

ever-broadening outlook he narrowed b) national barriers. Thus, 
Moholy the artist finally became a moral leader, all his activities 
being controlled by his strong social responsibility . 

This book, Moholy-Nagy, Experiment in Totality, is evidence of 
a new attitude in the contemplation and formation of our physical 



-M- With the last shot fired in World War L the Age of 

Imperialism exploded. Re\o!utions of all shades, from the Bol- 
shevist extreme to a bureaucratic Social Democracy, propelled 
Geimans, Russians, and the peoples of the vast Austrian Empire 
into an age of collectivism for which they \vere not prepared. 
Apart from a handful of intellectual leaders who had nursed a 
Marxian theorem into political reality, a whole generation was 
straddling history. If they were to survive, they had to stake 
claims on unfamiliar ground and leave the roots of mind and soul 
behind. Teachers had to revise the patriotic cliches on "priceless 
heritage"; clergymen had to forget about the hallowed alliance of 
throne and altar and learn the humiliating dependence on private 
congregations; the feudal estates were broken up and became the 
responsibility of the former tenant farmer; industrialists had to 
court labor unions instead of potentates; and the titled army 
officer made way for the political commissar in the new armies. 
It was a chaotic era of clashing convictions, but in time man's 
inherent need for order cast life into a solid mold again, and by 
1922 the revolution of yesterday had become the new status quo. 
The only lasting evidence of the anguished transition 
survives in new art forms, and in a changed relationship between 
artist and society. Every overthrow of esthetic traditions has been 
characterized by bitter battles between iconographer and icono- 
clast, between the recognized interpreter and the anonymous 
prophet. What distinguished the breakup of 1918 from earlier 
revolutions was a strange reversal of effects. For the first time the 
artist was deprived not of his social acceptance but of his isolation. 
This social isolation had been a by-product of the Industrial 
Revolution, as typical and as pernicious as slums, mechanization, 
and unemployment. The new ruling class had been willing to 
glorify art with money if art was willing to glorify money with 


art. But it became a travesty of creativeness. In less than a hundred 
years, the eclectics studded the Western Hemisphere with Hellen 
istic bank buildings and Renaissance mansions, their plazas and 
gardens populated by Roman monuments, and their walls papered 
with sensuous nudes and luscious still lifes 

The genuine creators among the artists to whom this 
new patronage tasted sour, withdrew into the art colonies where 
they survived in a purely ornamental function. In a century of 
perverted Darwinism, they were exempted from the struggle for 
economic survival. In exchange for the luxury of a creative con- 
science they could die as they pleased. The new society looked 
on coldly as their geniuses from Gericault to Van Gogh starved 
to death the new martyrs of an undevout age Montmartre, 
Schwabing, Bloomsbury, and Greenwich Village were expressions 
as typical of nineteenth century mentality as Wall Street, Lloyds 
of London, La Bourse, and Das kaiserliche Berlin Art had become 
part of the "conspicuous waste" a successful capitalism could 

* It was an ostracism, brutally ignorant of the creative 
process, but it had its rewards. It narrowed the field of artistic 
competition and secured highly professional standards. Uart pour 
Vart was valid in more than the accepted meaning of esthetic 
narcissism. It also expressed a mental inbreeding in which the 
artist lived and worked, succeeded or failed, through the artist 
The great battles between Romanticists and Impressionists, he- 
tween Cubism and Expressionism, were fought in attics and side* 
walk cafes. The outside world was never drawn into the arena. 

At the close of World War I, this carefully segregated 
artist colony was invaded by the Socialist partisans. No other revolu- 
tion had ever before turned to art as a weapon. Reynolds and Gains^ 
borough painted like Lebrun and Watteau in spite of 1688, andf 
Jean Louis David glorified the gravediggers rather than the heroes 
of the French Revolution. When in 1918 the young generation 
demanded new symbols which would fly before them as tkj 
banner of a better social order, they turned to art to give form t<| 
this new vision. Neither the scientific analysis of color by th| 
Impressionists, nor the intellectual form hypothesis of the Cubist| 
or the vivisection of the Expressionist soul seemed any longel 


adequate tor a continent where thousands died for a collective 
goal in street battles and political purges. Surrounded by the 
shambles of the triumvirate of state, church, and family, the 
need was for a new code of visual values. The violence of this 
demand killed portrait painting and nature morte. It spit in the face 
of the harmonious image which had hidden decay, deceit, and 
exploitation. The visual world had to be stripped of its anthropo- 
centric symbols before new ones could be created. The battle cry 
was: "Back to the fundamentals." The imitative iconograph) of 
the old social order was denounced. Past fame became an indict- 
ment. The established artists had either to recant or to retire. The 
alternatives were obsolescence or revolution. 

The burning zeal of those who chose revolution equaled 
that of the early Christian painters who had denied themselves the 
worldly beauty of antiquity to fight for a new spiritual order. 
The emotional appeal of familiar forms was consciously shunned 
by the rebels. Color, line, light, and the structure of materials 
were explored in their primordial purity, unadulterated by man 
and his perverted symbolism. The old techniques of peinture and 
trompe Foeil gave way to an austere honesty of elemental vision. 
Art was declared free of representational associations, a remedy 
for the war-violated dignity of the individual, and a promise for 
the crushed expressional freedom of the worker. New vision and 
new society merged in a powerful alliance. Art as social action 
became interdenominational, interracial, and international, the 
common property of all awakened men. The goal was a nonhier- 
archical scale of values in which esthetic and economic gratifica- 
tion ranked equal with political freedom. 

The artist colony was liquidated; the studio battles 
were carried into the assembly halls. Multitudes were to be taught 
in place of a few initiated apprentices. Canvas and plaster were 
supplemented by poster, pamphlet, photograph, film, and stage 
setting. The old society was to be attacked from within with 
functional design for mass production and mass distribution, and 
with organic architecture that would serve the tenant instead of 
oppressing him. In a spirit of high optimism that characterized 
the European mind in the 1920's, it was assumed that designed 


environment would produce designed social relationships, 
ic nature and function of vision and material, demonstrated 
11-embracing revolution of design, would create a clean 

social and biological relationships. 

Those were the years of Malevich's and Lissitzky's 
for radio stations and airdromes, and of their philosophy 

universal emotion, expressed through the "Suprematist 
" Mondrian and van Doesburg demonstrated the objective 
y of rectangle and primary color, and Gabo planned his 
ctivist monument to the Industrial Revolution. Picasso 
jer designed settings for the Diaghilev Ballet; Eisenstein, 
5, and Duchamp blazed the way for experimental film art. 

designed a Total Theater and Le Corbusier the "City of 
lillion People." Literature and typography, music and the 
3ined the cultural revolution. Artists became teachers, and 
; had to be artists. The Beaux-Arts Academy was utterly 
sd. Where each creative act challenged the tradition of 
js, the whole world became a school. 

The great drive lasted for ten years "kindred spirits, 
>aring, unwearied, and sublimely confident." By 1930 it 
i nt its force. The Fascist counterrevolution had been vie- 
One by one the bastions of art in society were lost. The 
between artist and worker was dissolved. The demand for 
liberation was drowned out by hour and wage disputes, 
mentioned the nonhierarchical scale of human values any 
The word Utopia became an invective again, and the terni 
cadent started to crop up in print. The rout was almost 
al. The great rebels recoiled from administrative pressure; 
litical intimidation. They stopped teaching and tried ttf 
w into the old ivory towers. But the artist colony ha<j 
d, its spirit of noninvolvement refuted and its economi 
e invaded by the financial chaos of the bourgeois worl 
in a disastrous depression, society could no longer affoiri 
ate its detractors. The days were past when Victorian! 
through tearful eyes at La Boheme. Art had shown its 
en it supported the specter of a proletarian revolution. NeJ 
ge had to be bought with an open renunciation of the 

vision, and most art complied. Modern design was eliminated 
from the political scene. The footlights \vent out in the experi- 
mental theaters. The Russian film giants of the days of 'Totemkin" 
pioduced nationalistic eulogies, and the French a\ ant-garde turned 
out potboilers for Hollywood. Italian Futurists brassily blared the 
Gwvinezza ; the original staff resigned from the German Bauhaus ; 
Cubist sculptors produced cemetery statuary, and Surrealists 
painted perfume ads and arranged screen \ersions of the subcon- 

Those who did not comply and there were numbers 
of them in all countries worked in a social vacuum. They \vere 
no longer wanted as allies by the new labor bosses, and the 
liquidation of such revolutionary art groups as "Der Sturm" 
"MA," "Munka" "i 10," "Der Blaue Reiter? "De Stijl," and 
"Broom" severed the contact even among each other. The only 
alternative to ideological sellout was the bitterness of complete 
isolation. Europe was fast becoming a no man's land of the arts 
where those who doubted their past labored to produce acceptable 
wares, and those who could not recant hid in fearful isolation. 

There was a third group, however, a mere handful of 
men who drew from defeat and frustration the inspiration to 
become leaders. One of them was Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Born on 
July 20, 1895, he grew up in the anachronistic feudalism of Hun- 
gary. His father had gambled away the large wheat farm in the 
southern part of the country, and disappeared in America. The boy 
was brought up by a grandmother who ruled her ancient estate as 
a true matriarch, and by a gentle poetic mother whose marital 
misfortune had turned her toward religion. When she returned 
with two of her children to her mother's house, after having been 
forced by family council to give her oldest boy to wealthy relatives 
in Germany, she knew she was an outcast. With the traditional 
ilJogic of all conventional groups the villagers scorned the woman 
because her husband didn't want her, but they also taunted the 
boy for having a no-good father who had abandoned his family. 
This ostracism tied Laszlo to his mother in a tender, long-lasting 
affection, and it made him fiercely ambitious to redeem his name. 

When he was thirteen years old he wrote in his diary: 


My soul knows that a time will come when people's scorn will 
hurt no more, when my head is high and my spirit free because 
my name is known to the world 1 

J he vowed to his mother, in a letter written in 1909, that it 
uld be for her that he would achieve the unusual: 


I have so many things in my heart which would fill books if 
I were to try to tell them. But you and I know each other. We 
are one but we are alone. This is your birthday, and I ask 
God that he may finally bring you security and independence 
from other's whims. You can stand before Him in great grace 
because you lived for your family, you gave joy. If only you 
would never be hurt again, your face not darkened by sorrow 
I shall be great and good I promise and if I don't fulfill 
this promise you may take my life. 

d in the bloody winter of 1917 on the cracking front in Galicia 
wrote a verse in his notebook: 

Not to be here to be anywhere, where? 

My mother's figure shines from far away. 

When will I see her eyes again eyes like stars? 

old desire, old light, be mine. 

Years passed not years but centuries are gone 

And all her sorrow passed from her to me. 

was a quiet child, an ardent learner, and a dreamer, but fiercely 
.bilious to do what he had decided best. An unjust or rash 
ticism either about himself or others would send him into 
ious outbursts which left him exhausted and in his own 
rds "stupefied almost to a state of death." The hostile atmos; 
ere around him gave him an insatiable hunger for acceptance 
it was not stilled in a lifetime, but it also robbed him of aH 
isions that success could be had for less than total effort. 

I lived my childhood years in a terrible great quietness [hf 
wrote in a diary which he kept between his 15th and 18th year): 
Although the villagers didn't understand me, they sometimes; 
seemed to think that I would be a leader one day. Our oil 
coachman would look at me, half sadly, half proudly, and lag 
would shake his head: "You're so different, young maste| 

Quotations from Moholy's early literary efforts and letters have beel 
nslated from the Hungarian. 

you're so different " But I didn't want to be only different; I 
wanted to be someone's ideal. Yet all during my school years 
I couldn't make it anything more It was only that difference 
in me that separated me from everything else. Only my little 
brother Bandi feared me as he would a roaring waterfall. 

The only male influence in Laszlo's youth was an uncle, 
Gusti Bacsi, a successful country lawyer who hated the Austrians 
and the Hapsburgs and loved Petofi, the poet-hero of the abortive 
Hungarian Revolution of 1848. In contrast to the farmers and 
merchants, he was a man of the world, a bachelor, who had 
traveled widely, owned a large library in Hungarian, German and 
French, and who corresponded with many important men of his 
era. His influence upon the boy was profound. Through his uncle's 
eyes he came to identify the church-dominated peasantry with 
backwardness and stagnation, and the faraway culture of the indus- 
trial cities with progress and unlimited development. 

Laszlo was ten years old when the uncle arranged for 
his first visit to Szeged, Hungary's second largest town. But the 
excursion was a failure. In his imagination the boy had identified 
this town all towns with the skyscrapers of New York, pictured 
in Over Land and Sea, the family magazine of the turn of the cen- 
tury. He threw himself down in the unpaved street and refused to 
open his eyes to look at the two-story wooden houses, the ancient 
churches, and the modest townspeople. After this visit the dream of 
the great industrial landscape grew stronger and more precise, and 
removed him farther from the native scene. By the time he was 
called up to fight in the First World War, the uncle had died and 
the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was fading out, its millennial 
structure crumbling under the impact of industrialization and the 
demand for home rule in the vassal states. 

His training as an artillery officer brought Laszlo to 
Budapest. At the age of nineteen he discovered the culture of a big 
city, the love of women, and the supremacy of his own vision. 
A poem, dedicated "to Panna" and entitled "Love and the Dilet- 
tante Artist," is the first testimony of his dedication to light as 
a creative force, and the first intimation of his later life as a 


Little girl, you mean so well 

Hot kisses, the treasure of love 

A tired child, I fall into your lap. 

Guard me well, little girl, guard my love. 

I swam in the Danube this afternoon 
And I forgot all ahout you. 
Longing for the old ecstasy light. 
The waves rushed against each other 
And my paper heart filled with wonder. 
I was gazing at Buda. 

How beautiful was Buda this afternoon, 

Under a cover of light 

A tender silken cover of green, a shroud of bluish mist. 

Cap-like it leaped, glowingly, from spire to spire. 

But the mood changed. War on the Russian Front wasl 
ferocious. In four bloody years Moholy grew up to be a man. He] 
rarely spoke of his experiences, and when he mentioned war^j 
it was with profound disgust. But there were, over the years, j 
certain flashbacks, which shed light on the impact of this travesty ] 
of culture and civilization on the dreaming farm boy. Revulsion! 
against the drinking orgies of his fellow officers made him ani 
abstainer and a nonsmoker, and the wanton destruction of raw 1 " 
materials and machinery which could have served mankind made| 
him conscious of values and preservation. He never forgot the! 
helplessness and mute fury caused by the sadism of a superior 
officer who assigned the losers in a nightly chess game to patrol 
duties involving almost certain death, and throughout his life 
he shunned jokes and stag-party stories because they reminded 
him of the coarse companionship in dugouts and mess halls. After 
two years in the front lines, a snow-white streak- divided his 
black hair; but he survived. Late in 1916, in a battle along the 
Isonzo River in Venezia Giulia, his whole battery was wiped out, 
he alone escaping, with a shattered thumb and a fast-spreading! 
infection that kept him for months in military hospitals. 

Up to this point his release from inner protest and, 
isolation had been poetry an ecstatic transfiguration of his 
violated ego into a higher state of harmonious universality. 

This dedication and this fearful urge 

To give, to bleed, to wrench the last creative breath 


ig. 1. Dying Soldier, 19T6. Grease pencil on paper. 

From sore and starving hearts 

This is between the two of us you smiling, 

I clawing with my nails the earth for her life-giving seed 

he wrote in 1914 in one of the poems that appeared in the avant- 
garde magazines that emulated the expressionist poet Ady. In the 
stench and isolation of a base hospital, surrounded by the 
crumbling morale of a failing army, he experienced the inade- 
quacy of poetic escape. For the first time he felt compelled to 
analyze reality by recording its face. In innumerable sketches 

Fig 2 War Landscape, 
1917 Charcoal on paper 

on postcards and fever charts, in notebooks, and later on field 
orders and dossiers, he drew his fellow soldiers, and their entou- 
rage of ragged starving civilians. There's a tubercular soldier, 
reading the Bible, the bone structure of his emaciated skull bared 
by sharp anatomical strokes A prostitute lies on a blue spread, 
the contours of her dress etched into the white paper, and the 
same figure in the nude in an identical pose of incomplete 
relaxation. Famished women, dying soldiers, one with a strange 
cherubic face, tangled in a maze of barbed wire (Fig 1), and 
above all the landscape of war, under a sky that is outlined by 
wild forbidding loops (Fig 2) 

Without art training or the guidance of conscious art 
appreciation, he searched for contact with a visual world that was 
far removed from the death struggle of Eastern Europe A few 
Van Gogh reproductions had found their way into Hungarian 
magazines, and many years later, in "Abstract of an Artist," 
Moholy wrote: 

The analytical nature of his ink drawings taught me that line 
drawing* ought not to be mixed with halftones, that one 
should try to express three-dimensional plastic quality by the 
unadulterated means of line In trying to express this 

three-dimensionality, I used auxiliary lines in places where 
ordinarily no lines are used The result -was a complicated 
network of a peculiar spatial quality applicable to new prob- 
lems . . I saw that this experiment with lines brought an 
emotional quality into the drawings which was entirely un- 
intentional and unexpected, and of which I had not been aware 
before. I tried to analyze bodies, faces, landscapes with my 
"lines," but the results slipped out of my hand, went beyond 
the analytical intention The drawings became a rhythmicalb 


articulated network of lines, showing not so much objects as 
my excitement about them. 2 

These line drawings were the exercises of a born painter 
who knows instinctively that art cannot grow without self -training. 

Early in 1917 he had crystallized a philosophy of 
vision. He was twenty-one years old then, isolated from his fellow 
men, and suffering bitterly from his ill-treated wound. Between 
fever deliriums he wrote the creed of his life: 

Learn to know the Light-design of your life. 
You will find it different from chronology. 
A different measure, called Eternitas, 
Proud battle for the secrecy of order. 

Space, time, material are they one with Light? 

Dependent on the Light that gives you life? 

Idea of great magnitude that grows 

Within your soul, poor creature, steers your way 

As by an arm to latitudes 

So utterly unknown to lightless eyes. 

Search desperately what is Light as essence? 

What is its substance, what its price? 

I cannot kill my thirst nor even lessen it. 

Space, time and system essence or mere chaos. 

Realities that seem eternal 

For creatures not eternal, bound by death. 

Light, ordering Light, where are you? Far away. 

A luster that illuminates mere being. 

Come over me, proud Light, fierce Light, burn deep, 

Ferocious Light, spread through me, cleanse my eyes. 

A dampish tomb, the earth will then collapse. 
Dead worries rot in soon-forgotten graves, 
Refuted sacraments impeding Light. 

"Everything" you hear its hollow sound 

If we maintain the nothingness of darkness. 

"Nothingness" you hear it roaring on 

If "Everything" is us denied. 

Precarious balance time, material, space 

Resting on nothingness and meaning everything. 

2 L. Moholy-Nagy, The New Vision (New York, 1948). 


But human brain, so pitifully small, 

Pierced through the darkness of the void, and tied 

Material, space and time to Light contours, 

To Light eternal, Light the striding life. 

And nothingness, so vainly measured out 

In time and space, transforms the darkened man 

Light, total Light, creates the total man. 

When the war was over and he returned to Budapest 
he knew that he had to become a painter. It was a decision not 
without inner conflict. On May 15, 1919 he wrote in his notebook: 

During the war, but more strongly even now, I feel my responsi- 
bility toward society. My conscience asks incessantly: is it 
right to become a painter m times of social revolution? May 
I claim for myself the privilege of art when all men are 
needed to solve the problems of sheer survival? 

Art and reality have had nothing in common during the last 
hundred years. The personal satisfaction of creating art has 
added nothing to the happiness of the masses. 

I have had many talks with men and women on my long train 
trips. I have seen what is needed beyond food. I have finally 
learned to grasp what is biological happiness in its complete 
meaning. And I know now that if I unfold my best talents in 
the way suited best to them if I try to grasp the meaning of 
this, my life, sincerely and thoroughly then I'm doing right 
in becoming a painter. It is my gift to project my vitality, my 
building power, through light, color, form. I can give life as 
a painter. 

To please his mother, he finished his undergraduate 
work in law at the University of Budapest, but it was done with 
the left hand, so to speak. All his energies, the undivertible inten- 
sity of his mind and his senses, were concentrated upon visual 
representation. At first he was intimidated by the apparent chaos 
of revolutionary painting in 1918. He had found a hold in the 
articulation of space through line, but the use of color was gov- 
erned by more complex canons. There were the coloristic fantasies 
of the Expressionists Marc's blue horses, and the green-faced 
figures of Chagall. The Cubists had devaluated color to mere 
shadings, and the Purists used it in a raw, poster-like directness. 
To find his bearings, Moholy copied the "solid" values of Renais- 


Fig. 3. Bridges, 1919. Oil on canvas. 

sance and Baroque painters. He produced dozens of nudes, 
portraits, landscapes. Later he tried to return to the \i\id primary 
contrasts of slavic peasant art brilliant reds and \ellows, con- 
trasted with deep blues or luminous yellows. Like the embroidery 
on the blouse of a Hungarian peasant, or the wreath of flowers 
painted around a cup or a bowl, the chromatic scale of Moholy 's 
early paintings was simple and virile, inspired by and bound to 
a folk art which had been the only visual experience of his child- 
hood. But the subject matter was alien, far removed from the 
mythological tales or the idyllic stylizations. The rigid triangles 
of iron construction and the swinging arches of bridges (Fig. 3), 
rise into the gaily colored areas. Mathematical numbers fly 
through the sky, and geometrical sections destroy any attempt at 
perspective illusion. The agony of a whole people, torn between 
the ageless tradition of decorative art and the new forms of a 
technological existence, is expressed in these paintings. The final 
decision would be between the reds, blues, and yellows of the 
Hungarian Plains or the geometric shapes of the industrial land- 
scape. When Moholy finally broke through the confines of tradition, 
it was not a conscious decision dictated by esthetic considerations. 
It was an intuitive need for a solution, peculiar to him and to 
no one else, which expressed his profound inner transformation 
during the postwar chaos. 

For more than four years in the trenches, Moholy had 
shared the collapse of a hopelessly decayed society. He had experi- 
enced on his own flesh the irresponsibility, exploitation, coercion, 
and brutality that had held his people under Austrian dominance 
for centuries. When Bela Kun broke the hateful ties and declared 
a Hungarian Soviet, Moholy together with many of his generation 
saw in him the messiah of a new world. With the flaming enthusi- 
asm of youth he offered himself, his art, and his willingness to 
teach, to the Communist regime. But he was not accepted. The 
landholding status of his family made him suspect to the party 
heads, and his rank as an officer in the army aggravated this 
suspicion. Yet, the real basis of his nonacceptance was not political 
but artistic. Between him and the Communist Party stood his 
newly won assurance of nonrepresentational art as an essential 
revolutionary weapon. On March 21, 1920, living as an exile in 


Vienna, he formulated this conflict in sentences which prove the 
growing maturity of his mind. 

This is the bitter anniversary of the birth and death of the 
Hungarian Revolution, which 4 died in infancy because to be 
able to live it had to have revolutionary content. Instead, it 
was born within unshakable nationalistic walls, attended by 
the faithlessness of the Social Democrats and the stifling 
dogmas of the bourgeoisie. 

The leaders of this revolution, instead of solving the spiritual 
and material needs of the wanting masses, were busy with 
historical materialism, with neutral zones and national power. 
A heap of contradictions! 

Under their poorly dyed red cover, the revolutionaries forgot 
the real meaning of a revolution. They forgot to promote the 
inner revolution of life. They forgot about culture. Their 
revolution is not a "revolutionaiy change." Their form of 
Communist economy does not mean a new system of production 
and distribution. It merely changes the powers of those who 
decide about production and distribution This economic Com- 
munism is another form of capitalism, based on trusts, syndi- 
cates, state credit, patronage, and a hierarchy of unassailable 
state leaders. 

A truly revolutionary new system would differ in all aspects 
from the familiar old pattern. It would eliminate first of all 
cagelike houses in slums, dead museums that glorify a false 
world picture, hospitals run for profit that kill patients with 
ignorance and greed and are actually morgues, the brothel 
parties of the high officials who buy women, the theaters and 
operas that stink of ethical foot-and-mouth disease, the con- 
strictions upon creative opportunity in schools which reward 
only caste spirit. 

The present Communist Party is still part of this bourgeois 
world and its able propagator. It blows a red tin trumpet 
while imitating the cult of the dead and base past under the 
deceptive name of "prolet cult." The present Communist system 
of economy might offer new opportunities to a number of men 
who can cleverly mix enterprise and politics, but it will never 
solve the deeper and most vital needs of survival. 

Even though madness and reaction have followed this revolu- 
tion, we hope for new human raw material, prepared in the 


Fig. 4. Collage in red- 
yellow-black, 1921. Paper 
forms on black construction 

right kind of school-kettles to build and maintain a society 
dedicated to a totally new culture. 

To translate the full scope of his protest into visual 
symbols, Moholy needed a tabula rasa, a cleansing of all symbolic 
connotations reminiscent of the social order he had rejected. This 
was his discovery of the visual fundamentals the colors, shapes, 
and interrelationships underlying all visual form. 

I discovered that composition is directed by an unconscious 
sense of order in regard to the relations of color, shape, posi- 
tion, and often by a geometrical correspondence of elements. 
I eliminated the perspective employed in my former 
paintings. I simplified everything to geometrical shapes, fiat 
unbroken colors: lemon yellow, vermilion, black, white polar 
contrasts. . . . Color, which so far I had considered mainly 
for its illustrative possibilities, was transformed into a force 
loaded with potential space articulation, and full of emotional 
qualities. 3 

During his last months in Budapest, and nine obsessed and hungry 
months in Vienna, Moholy explored the space-articulating power 
of the colored form. The light and heavy qualities, and the advanc- 
s "Abstract of an Artist," op. ctf. 


Fig. 5, Portrait: Reinhold 
Schairer, 1920. Grease 
pencil on paper. 

ing and receding tension, inherent in certain shapes, colors, and 
surface textures, were registered in dozens of collages. He glued 
colored paper strips to backgrounds of varying tones, separating, 
or superimposing colored form elements. These collages afforded 
him "a rhythmical and emotional exultation as yet unmatched by 
the use of oil on canvas." 4 (Fig. 4) . Later the superimpositions and 
parallelograms were repeated in water color, adding transparency 
as a new element to this new language of fundamentals. To attempt 
in 1920 a visual contact between artist and public by purely 
objective, noniconographic forms, was a declaration of independ- 
ence which called for great courage in a young painter who felt 
himself unsupported by any recognized group. In a country as 
isolated from the Western World as Hungary, it severed all con- 
tacts with the artistic fraternity. Only a small fraction of political 
dreamers saw an inner connection between their goal of a clear 
functional society, and the abstract symbols of man's universe. 
His friends and relatives on the farms and in the small Hungarian 

4 Ibid. 

towns who had reluctantly admired his severe portraits and line- 
scapes felt he was throwing away not only his time but financial 
success as well, and the Symbolists and Expressionists in the 
artist cafes of Budapest and Vienna, riding the vogue of the 
"Brucke" and "Blaue Reiter" movements, sneered at the "emo- 
tional barrenness" of the Constructivist approach. Realizing his 
total isolation, Moholy decided to break all the contacts of his 
youth. In January, 1921, he arrived in Berlin. 

Being almost penniless, he had to work his way across 
eastern Germany as a letterer and sign painter. As soon as he had 
enough money for a railroad ticket, he would take a slow train to 
the next large town. On this journey he picked up a severe case of 
"flu" which was decimating the German population in the winter 
of 1920. Racked with fever he arrived at a Berlin hotel, and 
collapsed in the lobby when the clerk wouldn't take him in. A 
young pedagogue, Reinhold Schairer, found him there. He and 
his wife cared for the sick anonymous stranger as part of their 
rehabilitation work for veterans of the First World War. Without 
their devotion, Moholy would never have survived this crisis. His 
gratitude is expressed in his portrait of Doctor Schairer. It was 
his last representational drawing (Fig. 5). 

After his recovery he found an empty attic in Berlin's 
western section, and with the help of some Quaker rations, estab- 

Fig. 6. Perpe, 
white paper. 

1919. Gouache on 



ift .'./:; 

j&H'V-^/ '-,' " F'9- 7. Water Color, 1921. 

sif^tfcfci' , ^jtVJL-1 

lished himself as a painter who now tried to translate the form 
relationships of the collages and the superimpositions and trans- 
parencies of the water colors on canvas. "Perpe, 1919," a gouache 
composition on paper, and "Water Color, 1921" (Figs. 6, 7) 
indicate the full scope of the problem he had set for himself. The 
direction led from severe simplification of form in two-dimensional 
space, to the creation of visual depth through color transparencies. 

My transparent pictures aroitnd 1921 became completely freed 
from all elements reminiscent of nature. Their genesis was 
determined by a complete liberation from the necessity to 
record I wanted to eliminate all factors which might disturb 
their clarity in contrast for instance with Kandinsky's paint- 
ings which reminded me of an undersea world. My desire was 
to work with nothing but the peculiar characteristics of colors, 
with their pure relationships. I chose simple geometric forms 
as a step toward such objectivity. I see today that this was the 
logical continuation of the Cubist paintings I had admiringly 
studied. 5 

By 1922, Moholy had reached the first definite posi-s 
tion in his life work. He had proved to himself the visual vitality 
and creative essentiality of pure color and form elements in any? 
medium. His instinctive protest against the exclusion of creative* 
individuality from the political program of the Hungarian Revolu-; 
tion had been justified. Through his new vision he felt himself ; 
intimately connected with the social reality of his time. Con-t 
structive design and reconstructed society were an inseparable^ 

5 "Abstract of an Artist," op cit, 


entity. It was a confirmation of elating certainty, and the teacher 
in him insisted on formulating what the painter had discovered, 

Constructivism and the Proletariat 

Reality is the measure of human thinking. It is the means by 
which we orient ourselves in the Universe. The actuality of 
time the reality of this century determines what we can 
grasp and what we cannot yet understand. 

And this reality of our century is technology: the invention, 
construction, and maintenance of machines. To be a user of 
machines is to be of the spirit of this century. It has replaced 
the transcendental spiritualism of past eras. 

Everyone is equal before the machine. I can use it, so can 
you. It can crush me; the same can happen to you. There is 
no tradition m technology, no class-consciousness. Everybody 
can be the machine's master, or its slave. 

This is the root of Socialism, the final liquidation of feudalism. 
It is the machine that woke up the proletariat. We have to 
eliminate the machine if we want to eliminate Socialism. But 
we know there is no such thing as turning back evolution. 
This is our century: technology, machine, Socialism. Make 
your peace with it; shoulder its task. 

Because it is your task to carry revolution toward reformation, 
to create a new spirit that will fill the empty forms cast by 
the monstrous machine. Manufacture in itself doesn't make 
a bettei life. Look around: the people are not happy in spite 
of the machine. Well-being is caused by the spirit that ani- 
mates technology; it is a socialism of the mind, a dedication 
to the spirit of the group. Only a proletariat awakened to this 
grasp of essential communality can be happy. 
Who will teach them? Words are heavy, obscure. Their mean- 
ing is evasive to the untrained mind. Past traditions cling to 
their meanings. But there is art, the language of the senses. 

Art crystallizes the emotions of an age; art is mirror and 
voice. The art of our time has to be fundamental, precise, all- 
inclusive. It is the art of Constructivism. 

Constructivism is neither proletarian nor capitalistic. Con- 
structivism is primordial, without class or ancestor. It expresses 
the pure form of nature the direct color, the spatial rhythm, 
the equilibrium of form. 

6 Excerpts from an article in "MA," May, 1922. "MA" (meaning "To- 
day") was a revolutionary Hungarian magazine, published between 1918 
and 1925. 


Fig. 8. Photograph, 1922. 

The new world of the masses needs Constructivism because it 
needs fundamentals that are without deceit. Only the basic 
natural element, accessible to all senses, is revolutionary. It 
has never before been the property of civilized man. 

In Constructivism, form and substance are one. Not substance 
and tendency, which are always being identified Substance is 
essential, but tendency is intentional. Constructivism is pure 
substance. It is not confined to picture-frame and pedestal. It 
expands into industry and architecture, into objects and rela- 
tionships. Constructivism is the socialism of vision. 

And in the Buck Neuer Kunstler^ which he and his friend Ludwig 
Kassak published in 1922, the introduction proclaimed: 

This is the hour to weigh the past heroes of destruction against 
the fanatics of construction. There has never been an epoch 
comparable to ours in which legions of awakened men set out 
in so many different directions in search for new form in 
which so many men burn with a fanatical flame from which 
bursts the cry of a new birth: an epoch which creates simul- 
taneously the fury of despair and the flaming pillar of positive 

Verbal expression didn't come easily to a painter of 
such obsessed vision. He needed help, the patient influence of a 
trained mind. This influence was Lucia, a young university woman 
whom Moholy met during his first year in Berlin. To the delirious 
sense-perception of his new vision she added her superior intel- 
ligence and the sober working discipline of a scholar. In collab- 
oration with her, Moholy acquired the ability to think and express 
himself logically and intelligibly. She was not at home in the 
artist cafes or the smoke-filled studios. Through her and a circle 
of friends, Moholy became part of the movement for psycho- 
biological reform that spread through Germany after the First 
World War. Its program was based on the rules of the Persian 
Mazdaznan sect, prescribing exercises of Spartan rigor to attain 
self-control, and a strict vegetarianism permitting only the con- 
sumption of raw vegetables. Outdoor living with long hikes over 
the countryside carried him far away from his youth as an army 
officer and the nocturnal existence of a revolutionary. "Laci" 
and Lucia were poor, and the extreme frugality of their life 
emphasized the spiritual hasis of their relationship. Their bond 


was a shared vision of the totality of revolutionary design, and an 
unlimited willingness to work and to sacrifice for it. 

It was during those long walks, on which he redis- 
covered landscape, that Moholy started to photograph. The basic 
elements of form, light, and color gradation, which he had sta- 
bilized in his paintings, gave to the human figure, to animal and 
plant a reality never previously observed. Shadows and textures 
expressed a pattern of design that corresponded to his own work 
(Fig. 8). At first Lucia was the apprentice of his perceptive 
interpretation. Later she added to this vision the systematic 
knowledge of the craftsman who learns his trade well, until she 
became one of the outstanding photographers of Europe. Their 
marriage lasted until 1929. By then the nursling of a new age 
had grown to be the mentor of the next generation. His alumnus 
days had passed, and from the comradeship he and Lucia had 
shared he turned to the complex relationships of manhood. 

The other decisive influence upon Moholy during his 
first years in Berlin was Kurt Schwitters. The Hanoverian Dadaist 
had not been in Zurich in 1916 when Ball, Tzara, Arp, and 
Huelsenbeck founded the "Cabaret Voltaire." But the war-madness 
of European imperialism, and the venality of conformist artists, 
had aroused similar reactions in him. He developed his own form 
of Dadaism which he called MERZ 7 Some of his poems were word- 
less sound-symphonies, composed of the rich vocality of vowels and 
consonants without literary meaning, like the notes of a music 
score. His prose was a cunningly disguised social satire. Through 
a seemingly childish pattern of repetition and banality, he 
achieved a highly sophisticated exposure of the petit bourgeois. 
But his strongest influence came from his pictures, the MERZ 
COLLAGES. Schwitters wrote in the first issue of his magazine 

In a piece of art it is only important that all parts are cor- 
related to the whole. ... In the relationship of a known and 
an unknown quantity, the unknown vanes and modifies the 

7 The name was accidental and came from the four central letters of 
the word "komMERZiell," which had appeared on a scrap of newspaper^ 
in one of the MERZ collages. 


Fig. 9. In the Name of the Law, 1922. Photomontage. 

known. It is irrelevant whether materials had any established 
value before they were used for producing a piece of art. They 
receive their evaluation through the creative process. 

That is why I use discarded cogwheels, tissue paper, can tops, 
glass splinters, labels, and tickets. By being balanced against 
each other, these materials lose their characteristics their 
personality poison. They are dematerialized and are only stuff 
for the painting which is a self -related entity. A significant art 
product has no longer an outward relationship to the material 
elements that formed it. 

In Vision in Motion, more than twenty years later, 
Moholy paid homage to the genius of Kurt Schwitters by analyz- 
ing his importance for modern art. But in 1922 he was fascinated 
not by Schwitters' historical significance but by the bold humor 
of the Dadaists who attacked with ridicule where Moholy and his 
Mazdaznan friends had brandished weighty principles. Under 
Schwitters' influence, he turned to political collage and photo- 
montage ridiculing the undefeated nationalism of the Germans, 
the senselessness of journalistic verbiage, and the shoddy authority 
of the police state (Fig. 9) . 

But of greater importance for Moholy's future work 
was Schwitters' preoccupation with typography. To "equalize 
contrasts and distribute the centers of gravity," as he had pro- 
claimed in the first number of his Merz magazine, Schwitters 
and with him most of the Dadaists disassociated the letters of 
the alphabet from their familiar word context. Single vowels and 
consonants became compositional elements in many different art 
forms: in music for instance, as self-expressive sound associations 
in Schwitters' "Sonata in Primordial Sounds"; in the photograra 
by supplying an infinite variety of exact forms, overlying free 
forms and flowing textures; or in painting, where typographical 
elements added visual and chromatic associations to the two- 
dimensional plane. The letters F, N, and worked into a collage 
or a canvas represented curved or angular forms, but they also 
produced an associative sound experience in the spectator who not 
only saw but also "heard" the picture. One of the most ingenious 
of these experiments is Moholy's canvas "Gelbe Scheibe, 1921 
(Yellow Disc, 1921)" in which the letters of the name Moholy 
are composed into a Constructivist entity (Fig. 10) . 


Fig. 10. Typographical 
Painting, L Mohoiy, 1921. 
Oil on burlap. 

Schwitters dedicated a series of his brightest MERZ 
collages to Mohoiy, and he gave him the first copy of his famous 
Anna Blume, bound in a multicolored paper cover made by him- 
self, and inscribed: "To Mohoiy on the last day of the reduced 
streetcar tariff." 

But although Mohoiy understood the liberating out- 
burst of the subconscious pandemonium in Dadaism, he never 
became part of it. His creative impetus came from different 
sources. He lacked the peculiar obsession of the frustrated revolu- 
tionary artist which feeds on the tension between self-indulgence 
and social accusation. He never could at the same time serve and 
ridicule the suprapersonal goal he had recognized as binding. He 
was unschizophrenic, and throughout his life he retained the 
sincerity of the child dedicated, without irony. 

After Schwitters' collages had opened Moholy's eyes 
to the Gestalt value of integrated symbolic elements, he discovered 
the photogram, a creation of pictorial compositions in black and 
white through the photographic printing process. 


grays. Although it is without representational content, the 
photogram is capable of evoking an immediate optical experi- 
ence, based on our psycho-biological visual organization 

It was through the parallel exploration of photogram 
and photography that Moholy was able to arrive at clear defini- 
tions for both. The photogram was the creation of elemental 
optical relationships, and basically one with Constructivist paint- 
ing Photography was representation of symbolic form, bound by 
the associative content of plant, animal, structure, and man. In 
a widely reprinted article, "Isms and Art," 8 which later was to j 
constitute the basis for his book Painting-Photography-Motion 
Picture Moholy asserted that only a fetishistic adherence to 
Romantic handicraft traditions could challenge the supremacy of 
photographic representation over so-called realistic painting. ; 

The representation of either the object or the human being has 
been perfected to such a degree in photography that the inter- 
pretation through manual means painting seems indeed 
primitive. The battle between brush and camera becomes ridic- 
ulous if one realizes, through constant photographic practice, 
that all representation is interpretation that the choice of 
object, segment, light, shadow, even the choice of soft or hard 
photographic paper, are highly creative "artistic" decisions 
The danger of the photographic medium including the mo- 
tion picture is not esthetic but social. It is the enormous 
power of mass-produced visual information that can enhance 
, or debase human values. Brutal emotionalism, cheap sentimen- 
tality, and sensational distortion can, if they spread unchecked, 
trample to death man's newly won ability to see gradation and 
differentiation in the light-pattern of his world. 

With this pronouncement, which he emphasized and 
amplified throughout his life, Moholy not only promoted the 
photographer to the position of teacher and social leader, but he 
also included him among the artists. In uncounted photographs- 
Moholy explored man's socio-biological manifestations. He saw 
children and cats, old houses and the steel skeletons of mammoth 
factories, mountain lakes and the pavement patterns of city streets; 
with a camera eye that tried to be human before being realisticJ 

B Vwos Voco, Vol. V, No 8/9 (Leipzig 1925) ] 

9 Moholy-Nagy, Malerei-Photography-Film (Bauhaus Biicher, No 8, Mi*j 
nich, 1927). 


Fig. 12. Photogram, 1922. 

The artistic transfiguration of the insignificant object, first pro- 
claimed by Schwitters, was supplemented by a structural analysis 
in the photogram that surpassed the Cubists with their limited 
capacity to break through the surface of appearances by means 
of paint and brush stroke (Fig. 12). 

Photography had its influence upon Moholy 's work 
as a painter. Other artists had used photography to record the 
style of their sculptures and easel paintings. Moholy reversed the 
process and painted his photographic experiences. His canvases 
from 1922 are photogramatic compositions, decisively influenced 
by the technical eye of the camera. The superimposition of planes, 
the activation of light, and the smooth, textureless handling of 
the surface are photographic in character (Fig. 13). They ex- 
pressed his interest in the Russian predecessors of the Construc- 
tivists, the Suprematists, whose work had reached the West 
through the paintings of Kasimir Malevich and El Lissitzky. To 
express the supremacy of a pure, depersonalized emotion as the 
universal property of all men, Malevich and Lissitzky had re- 
duced painterly effects to a minimum of individual "peinture" 
Moholy disliked the emotional symbolism of Malevich's titles: 


Fig. 13. A 36, 1922. Oil on canvas. 

"Emotion of the Mystical Will Rejected" or "Emotion of a Mysti- 
cal Wave from the Universe," but he was deeply affected by the 
precise analysis of visual elements. Malevich's last painting, show- 
ing a white square on a white background, was for Moholy "the 
ideal screen for light and shadow effects which reflect the sur- 
rounding world in the painting. The manual picture is suppressed 
by the painterly possibilities of light projection." 9 It became his 
goal "to eliminate color (pigment) or at least to sublimate it to 
a point where the visual impact rests on the most essential medium 
the direct light." 10 

The physical conditions of Moholy's life lent the right 
background to this art of austerity. Berlin had no heat and little 1 
light in the inflation winter of 1922. 

"One gets frightfully spiritual on crackers and apple 
butter," Moholy said many years later looking at the funereal 
black of his canvases from that time "My life acquired depth 
and substance during those years, but all the colored feathers 
were plucked from my wings. I had always liked to laugh, and 1 
loved a good time. But we lived in a spirit of self-sacrifice, ob- 
sessed with the desire to submerge our egos into the collective 

As a climax to this self-effacing objectivity, Moholy 
painted three pictures by telephone. He had to prove to himself 
the supra-individualism of the Constructivist concept, the existence 
of objective visual values, independent of the artist's inspiration 

10 Ibid. 

and his specific pemture He dictated his painting to the foreman 
of a sign factor), using a color chart and an order blank of graph 
paper to specif) the location of form elements and their exact hue. 
The transmitted sketch was executed in three different sizes to dem- 
onstrate through modifications of densit) and space relationships 
the importance of structure and its var\ing emotional impact 
(Fig. 14). 

ig. 14. Exhibition "Der Sturm/' Berlin. Telephone Pictures on right wall. 

When in the winter of 1922 the art gallery Der Sturm, 
under the brilliant leadership of Herwarth Walden, arranged for 
the first showing of Moholy's work, the obscurity of his existence 
was over. "Compositions of high appeal," wrote the famous Vos- 
sische Zeitung, "created with a powerful sense of form and a 


tender taste for hue and gradation." And the Frankfurter Zeitun^ 

It takes discipline to be modern. This is where the artistic anc 
the arty part company Moholy has the iron discipline of 
scientist Many men paint Constructivistic, but no one paints 
as he does Don't talk about coldness, mechanization, this is 
sensuality refined to its most sublimated expression. It i< 
emotion made world-wide and world-binding. 

In the spring of 1923 Moholy-Nagy joined the facultj 
of the Bauhaus in Weimar. 


In 1919 Walter Gropius had founded the Staatliche 
Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany 

with the specific objective of realizing a modern architecture 
which should be all-embracing in its scope. Within that 
sovereign federative union, the different "arts"* every branch 
of design, every form of technique could be coordinated and 
find their appointed place. 1 

This philosophy had a natural affinity with the ex- 
uberant lines from the Buck Neuer Kunstler: 

We must change we must create, because movement means 
creation. Movement must be brought into equilibrium because 
only so can form be created. This new form is architecture. 2 

The Bauhaus was the catalyst for the visual revolu- 
tion of the twentieth century. It tested the validity of each new 
concept on the reality of day-by-day existence. The house as the 
nucleus of man's growth became the measure by which to evaluate 
color and structure, space, light, form. Ideological clarification 
and creative effort, combined with manual-technological training, 
were focused on the central idea of building as man's basic con- 
structive impulse. Pedagogically the Bauhaus program had a 
twofold aim: 

1. The intellectual, manual and technological education of 
creative people for design work specifically related to build- 
ing, and 

2. The execution of practical research work related to building 
and furnishing, and the development of model types for in- 
dustry and crafts. 3 

1 Walter Gropius, The New Architecture and the Bauhaus (London & 
New York, 1937). 

2 Ludwig Kassak and L. Moholy-Nagy, Buch Neuer Kunstler, activist 
magazine "MA," Vienna, 1922. 

3 Walter Gropius, "Bauhaus 1" (Bauhaus Chronik 1925-1926, quarterly 
publication of the Staatliche Bauhaus, Dessau, Germany). 


Within the scope of this designed totality came the picture on the 
wall and the rug on the floor, the furniture for child and adult, 
and the utensils in the kitchen. Dance and dramatic arts were of 
equal importance with poetry and music. Man's shelter and the 
activities maintained within this shelter were considered the 
aggregate expression of man's cultural progress. 

Gropius' appeal was convincing enough to induce 
some of the best men in modern art to join the Bauhaus faculty, 
Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger, Schlemmer, were at the height of 
their creative power when they became teachers. Other great 
names of European art and literature formed a group of active 
supporters. Oud, Mondrian, Giedion, Werfel, Einstein, and many 
others, declared their unanimity with the Bauhaus idea. 

During the first three years of collaboration, the 
Bauhaus faculty were united by the common aim of constructing 
a design nucleus in which artist and craftsman ranked as equals, 
In their first proclamation they declared: 

Architects, sculptors, painters, we must all turn to the crafts, 
. . . Let us create a new guild of craftsmen, without class 
distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman 
and artist. Together let us conceive and create the new build 
ing of the future which will embrace architecture and sculpture 
and painting in one unity and which will rise one day toward 
heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal 
symbol of a new faith. 

By 1923 two radicall} different interpretations of this new faith 
had become evident. Johannes Itten, who taught visual analysis 
and the interrelationship of color and personality, led a group of 
fanatic individualists whose artistic convictions were those oi 
German Expressionism. A dedication to metaphysical speculation 
and mystic rites produced form and color creations based of 
subconscious automatism and emotional introspection. In coi| 
trast to the Expressionists stood the Constructive objectivisi 
whose aim was a form language based on geometric order 
tensional equilibrium. Their inspiration came from Mondri 
Neoplasticism; their esthetic orientation rested on the univ< 
functionality of a designed world. 


For Gropius and his goal of an integrated archi- 
tectonic vision, the predominance of the Expressionist element in 
the Bauhaus faculty was a negative factor, and he decided to draw 
stronger Constructivist forces into the orbit of the school. In 1923 
he appointed Moholy-Nagy as master of the advanced foundation 
course and the Metal Workshop. Although the student council had 
supported Gropius' decision, the reaction of many Bauhaus mem- 
bers to Moholy's coming was negative. Paul Citroen, a student of 
that time, has given a description of the divided feelings. 

None of us who had suggested Moholy, liked his Construc- 
tivism. This '"Russian" trend, created outside the Bauhaus, 
with its exact, simulatively technical forms was disgusting to 
us who were devoted to the extremes of German Expressionism. 
But since Constructivism was the newest of the new, it was 
so we figured the cleverest move to overcome our aversion 
and, by supporting Gropius' choice of one of its creators, in- 
corporate this "newest" into the Bauhaus system. 

We were conscious of the danger of drawing into the inner 
circle the representative of an art form we basically negated. 
But it was only an experiment, something easily to be undone 
since Moholy was very young, and most probably inexperi- 
enced. So Moholy came to Weimar as 4 "the champion of 
youth," as we labeled him in contrast to the "old" faculty 
members Kandmsky, Feininger, and Klee who were between 
forty and fifty-five. 

The ensuing dilemma is convincingly illustrated in the 
catalogue of the first big Bauhaus Exhibition. The expressionism 
of Kandinsky, the dream world of Paul Klee, and the mysticism 
of J. Itten, contrast strangely with Moholy's angular metal sculp- 
ture and his objectified canvases (Fig. 15) . 

The hopes of the "young" to find in Moholy a spokes- 
man opposing the "old masters" were not fulfilled. Despite some 
sharp brushes with Gropius, which were settled through their 
common devotion to a great goal, a friendship developed which 
lasted a lifetime. Hie impetuous, self-obsessed Hungarian was 
attracted by the subtle taste and the restrained reasoning of the 
older man. Moholy was well aware of his lack of formal art 
education, and he was decided to overcome his handicap by an 



Fig. 16. Wrapper for Bauhaus Book No. 12. Three-color print on parchment paper. 

urging the reader to recognize the essentiality of clarity, 
brevity, and precision. 

The Bauhaus books influenced two generations of 
progressive typographers and commercial artists; their wrappers 
became landmarks of jacket design (Fig. 16), and their texts 
served to annihilate the beaux-arts spirit. They also confirmed 
Moholy's ability in a new field in which he retained a lifelong 
interest. Yet, in the totality of the Bauhaus effort, the publications 
were only a supplementary task. The centers which radiated al] 
strength and all creativeness were the workshops. In the spring oi 
1923 Moholy became head of the Metal Workshop and the Ad 
vanced Foundation Course. 

The Metal Workshop had been under the guidance oi 
Paul Klee, who, in the words of Xanti Schawinsky, turned out 
"spiritual samovars and intellectual doorknobs." Moholy saw a 
chance to create implements which would fill the urgent demand 
for good mass-production models and at the same time serve his 
obsession with the problems of light. Under his guidance tbe 
Metal Workshop of the Bauhaus produced a line of lighting fix 
tures which, still today, constitute the basic design of most modern 
lamps (Fig. 17) . In a photomontage called "Me," which was the 
only English word he had learned from an American visitor 
Moholy has portrayed himself with his master students: Marcfc 
Breuer, Hin Bredendieck, and others (Fig. 18) . 

The Preliminary or Foundation Course was the back- 
bone of the Bauhaus program. Its purpose was the study of basic 
materials, of wood, glass, metal, fiber, and their workability by 
hand and tool. When Moholy joined the Bauhaus faculty in 1923 
Joseph Albers had already established a curriculum that com- 
bined the exploration of property values with simple functional 
construction methods. The accent was on activation of the senses. 
Moholy expanded this course into a second semester where the 
basic knowledge of matter and method, acquired earlier, was ap- 
plied to the inventive creation of form. Experiment, the free play 
of intuition and material knowledge, was valued higher than the 
finished result. "Education by process" became the motto of the 
Foundation Course. 

Fig. 17. Lighting Fixture, Metal 
Workshop, Bauhaus, 1924. 

But Moholy's peculiar impact upon the Bauhaus com- 
munity was due less to his pedagogical skill, which was still in its 
beginnings, than to his personality, to his obsessed drive toward 
total identification. In an obituary note, Paul Citroen wrote: 

Like a strong eager dog, Moholy burst into the Bauhaus 
circle, ferreting out with unfailing scent the still unsolved, 
still tradition-bound problems in order to attack them. The 
most conspicuous difference between him and the older 
teachers was a lack of the typically German dignity and 
remoteness prevalent among the older "Masters" as all Bauhaus 
teachers were called. He never asked what was the impression 


have been a million times more effective. He criticized my desk 
lamp smilingly but cunningly and he promised me a hundred 
years of healthy existence if only I'd sit in a functional chair 
and read by functional light. The most striking feature was 
Moholy's obvious enjoyment of his mission. He had neither the 
meekness nor the forced cockiness of the typical money-raiser 
In the end I made out a check that was much higher than I my- 
self had planned." 

As we stepped into the elevator of the small New York 
hotel where the one-time newspaper magnate lived as a refugee 
fiom Hitler, Moholy reminisced wistfully. 

"It's a good thing to know the art of camouflage. God, 
how much hurt pride and self-conscious embarrassment I've cov- 
ered up with shows like that No one had to overcome greater 
handicaps in asking help than I. That was what made me so deter- 
mined to be a success." 

The productive freedom, the atmosphere of creative 
equality, and the glamour of international recognition outweighed 
the friction which sparked incessantly among a group comprised 
of some of the most creative men of an era. Much of this friction 
resulted from charges of artistic plagiarism, leveled against 
Moholy by some of his colleagues. He was accused of taking 
someone else's concept and developing it into a new form, a new 
theory, a new workshop exercise. But there was nothing less 
comprehensible to him than the tight grip on an idea. Throughout 
his life he flung projects and suggestions into the arena, not 
caring whether anyone else would claim them. He lent carefully 
compiled lantern slides, his vast collection of prints and clippings, 
even his own manuscripts, to any friend who had to make a 
speech or wanted to write a book. The willingness to share creative 
experience seemed to him particularly important in teaching^ 
Integrated design had accepted the whole world as its field ot 
action. The few men who took up this challenge were dependent 
on spiritual solidarity for success. Gropius' attempt to co-ordinate^ 
in the Bauhaus faculty all efforts toward a realization of thfi 
design totality seemed to Moholy the ideal state of unified div< 
sity. The hunt for epigoni, the pastime of so many art critics, 0] 


aroused his contempt, which he formulated in an open letter to 
one of the most powerful art editors of his day. 

WEIMAR, July 1, 1924 STAVTLKHFS r 

Mr. Paul W'estheim 


Das Kunstblatt 



In the last number of your Kunstblatt, Alfred Kemeny takes 
issue with an article by Paul F. Schmidt m which I am charac- 
terized as a representative of Suprematism. Kemeny uses this 
classification, which, by the way, was used by Schmidt without 
my knowledge, to accuse me of eclecticism, plagiarism, and 
self-promotion under false creative pretenses He analyzes my 
"'sterility," the lack of "economy" and precision m my work, 
and the "general mcompetency of my artistic efforts." But 
this is irrelevant to what I have to say. 

Kemeny was once my closest friend and co-fighter in the days 
of the Hungarian MA movement. For purely personal reasons 
he has become a bitter enemy who vents his anger through 
public denunciation of my painting. Returning from a visit 
to Russia only two years ago, in 1922, he wrote that only the 
work of Pen and myself among the young generation could 
compare with the maximum achievement of Russian art. 

But I am totally uninterested in whether or not Mr. Kemeny 
questions my originality; whether he or anyone else labels 
me Suprematist, Constructivist, Functionalist, etc. Many years 
ago, at the very beginning of my life as an artist, some com- 
rades and I warned in an article m "MA" against these catch- 
words. Classifications are born by accident, through a journal- 
istic quip or a bourgeois invective The living force of artistic 
development changes the meaning of the term without giving 
the artist a chance to protest his false identity. 

Kemeny states that I have "contributed nothing to the task 
of finding for our time a visual expression commensurate with 
its technological and economic urgencies." It is not for me to 
decide this, nor am I interested in the decision. My work at 
the Bauhaus is concerned with translating my concept of con- 
temporaneousness into form and word This is so big a task 
that it leaves me no time to worry about its interpretation 
from without. Whatever the quality of my oil paintings and my 


sculptures might be, I am satisfied that I am given the privilege 
rare to anyone to translate revolution into material reality. 
Compared to this task, the fiddling of Kemeny and others 
about priorities is quite irrelevant. A few years from now the 
selective principle of quality will decide upon our endeavors, 
and no catchwords or personal enmities will influence this 

Sincerely yours, 


The inner certainty of these lines was not conceit. It 
was the acceptance of work as the supreme gratification of man, 
Moholy had learned to work, and all that he achieved in later 
years he achieved through effort. No artist held less to a mystical 
belief in the automatic self-revelation of the genius. When he 
had learned English, he adopted for art Edison's definition of 
genius, "one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspira- 
tion," as one of his favorite sayings. 

The most important contribution the Bauhaus years 
made to Moholy's development was his acceptance of teaching as 
a life task. The contact with young people and the vitality of the 
creative group lessened the frantic search of his Berlin years, 
The zest of living productively and collectively erased "the terrible 
great quietness" of his childhood and the horrors of war; and it 
liberated him from the faddish prejudices against a full enjoy- 
ment of life that had narrowed the minds of his early German 
companions. He discovered the unity of doing and being, the 
organic oneness of living soundly and producing creatively. This 
became the keynote of his teaching program. 

From his biological being every man derives energies whict 
he can develop into creative work. Everyone is talented. Every 
human being is open to sense impressions, to tone, color, touch, 
space experience, etc. The structure of a life is predetermine^ 
in these sensibilities. One has to live "right" to retain th^, 

alertness of these native abilities. | 


But only art creation through the senses can develop 
dormant, native faculties toward creative action. Art is 
grindstone of the senses, the co-ordinatmg psycho-biologi 
factor. The teacher who has come to a full realization of 

5 All quotations from letters and manuscripts dating from 1922 to 
were written in German and have been translated by the author. 


organic oneness and the harmonious sense rhythm of life 
should have a tongue of fire to expound his happiness. 6 

But, together with this biological impetus and the 
inner satisfaction of giving guidance, Moholy discovered the 
depleting effects of teaching. Little has e\er been written about 
the psychological dilemma inherent in art instruction. It is taken 
for granted that all knowledge and inspiration can be shared, and 
that security against the hazards of an artist's existence can be 
guaranteed by a paid position. As Moholy became an experienced 
teacher he discovered that the creative process lent itself poorly 
to the inevitable routine of the classroom, that it often died of 
verbalization. It became his conviction that art itself cannot be 
taught, because young people look for absolutes whereas the 
artist maintains a precarious equilibrium between self-assertion 
and self -rejection. Even the teaching of the fundamentals of 
integrated design, derived from a socio-biological understanding 
of human needs, demanded from the artist-teacher a total dedica- 
tion which needed the sustenance of the creative community and 
the unlimited confidence of the students. Many years later in 
America Moholy warned against the destruction of native talent 
in the "resident artist" who is expected to dissect his soul four- 
teen hours a week under the strict supervision of the Trustees. 
To teach a new concept successfully, he told his graduates, called 
for a deep respect for the artist's integrity in any school adminis- 
tration, and a high state of self-renunciation in the artist himself, 
which can only be maintained by a profound love for youth. 

This contrast between the humanist who thinks in 
terms of relationships, and the specialist who thinks in terms of 
isolated problems, emerged slowly in the late 1920's. The syn- 
thesis of art and technology on which rested the Bauhaus program 
was slowly destroyed by a cancerous growth of the technological 
cells. Political reaction joined forces with technocratic utilitarian- 
ism, demanding that state-endowed education serve no other pur- 
pose than the training of specialists. Under the leadership of 
Hannes Meyer, an architect, a group of Bauhaus masters de- 
nounced the original concept of an integrated education where 
process and experiment ranked supreme over specialized skill. 

6 Moholy-Nagy, Vom Material zur Archtiektur (Bauhaus Bucher, No. 14, 
Munich, 1928), published in English under the title The New Vision. 


Since this change in pedagogical conviction corresponded to a 
change in the political climate of Germany, foreshadowing totali 
tarianism, the opposition group found ready support among some 
of the politicians upon whose vote depended the Bauhaus budget. 
The pressure brought upon Walter Gropius became 
more and more powerful. The alternatives were abandoning his 
lifework or consenting to a compromise which would level off the 
summit of integrative effort to a flat technological expediency. 
On January 13, 1928, he resigned as head of the German Bauhaus. 
On January 17 Moholy declared his complete accord and resigned 
too, followed by Herbert Bayer, Marcel Breuer, and Xanti Scha- 
winsky. In a letter, addressed to the Meisterrat of the Bauhaus, 
Moholy formulated his reasons for resigning his position. It is a 
statement that in twenty-odd years has lost nothing of its validity 
for the acute problem of endowed education. 

For the Bauhaus begins now a time of stabilization con 
ditioned by the length of its existence. As a consequence of 
the growing scarcity of money, it is demanded that it be pro- 
ductive, efficient today more than ever. 

Even though human and pedagogical considerations are not 
eliminated intentionally, they suffer because of this stabiliza- 
tion. Among the students, this reorientation is noticeable in 
their increased demand for technical skill and practical train- 
ing above anything else. 

Basically one can't object if human power wants to measure 
itself on the object, the trade This belongs essentially to the 
Bauhaus program. But one must see the danger of losing 
equilibrium, and meet it. As soon as creating an object becomes 
a specialty, and work becomes trade, the process of education 
loses all vitality. There must be room for teaching the bas;o 
ideas which keep human content alert and vital. For this ^et 
fought and for this we exhausted ourselves. I can no longer* 
keep up with the stronger and stronger tendency toward tra4e| 
specialization in the workshops. 

We are now in danger of becoming what we as revolutionaries 
opposed: a vocational training school which evaluates on 
the final achievement and overlooks the development of 
whole man. For him there remains no time, no money, 
space, no concession. 


I can't afford a continuation on this specialized, purely objec- 
tive and efficient basis either productively or humanly. I 
trained myself in five years for a specialty, the Metal Work- 
shop, but I could do this only by also giving all my human 
reserves. I shall have to resign if this demand for specialization 
becomes more intense. The spirit of construction for which I 
and others gave all we had and gave it gladly has been 
replaced by a tendency toward application. My realm was the 
construction of school and man. Under a program of increased 
technology I can continue only if I have a technical expert 
as my aide. For economic reasons this will never be possible. 
There is always money for only one of the two. I exerted great 
effort over these years to make the expert unnecessary. I can't 
give more than I gave so far; therefore I have to relinquish 
my place to him. I am infinitely sad about this. It is a turn 
toward the negative away from the original, the consciously 
willed, character of the Bauhaus. 

The school today swims no longer against the current. It tries 
to fall in line. This is what weakens the power of the unit. 
Community spirit is replaced by individual competition, and 
the question arises whether the existence of a creative group 
is only possible on the basis of opposition to the status quo. 
It remains to be seen how efficient will be the decision to work 
only for efficient results. Perhaps there will be a new fruitful 
period. Perhaps it is the beginning of the end. 

It was the beginning of the end. During the following 
four years different men tried to save the Bauhaus by compromis- 
ing with the growing political opposition. A last attempt by 
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe to continue it as a private school in 
Berlin failed when the Hitler regime wiped it out as a "center of 

In the fall of 1928 Moholy returned to Berlin. He was 
no longer anonymous as when he had first pleaded with a hotel 
clerk for a bed, but he also was no longer without scars and the 
consciousness of defeat. The great illusion of a creative union 
between government and education was destroyed. From now on 
the realization of an integrated life concept depended on the 
individual fighting power of those who believed in it. As a member 
of the visionary group that had mapped total design as a future 
principle of living, Moholy had been a contributor, not a leader. 


The dimensions of his inner stature became apparent only after 
all supports were gone and he had to choose between retreat 
and attack. In testing the needs of a civilization that seemed to 
have abandoned all creative hope, he discovered its potentialities. 
As he faced his times artistically, emotionally, and politically, he 
became a contemporary in the deepest meaning of the word. 
Somewhere between 1928 and 1929 Moholy sensed that his integ- 
rity had to be preserved not through social retreat but through 
total involvement and identification. 

The State of Prussia maintained two opera theaters 
in Berlin : the classical house Unter Den Linden^ and the Krolloper, 
l f enfant terrible of the operatic art. A trio of unusual talent worked 
at the latter: Otto Klemperer, the conductor; Ernst Legal, the 
producer; and Hans Cur j el, the manager. Early in 1929 they 
hired Moholy to design their settings. None of them quite realized 
what this appointment would entail, although a quip of Legal's 
indicated some suspicions about his new designer: 

"I'm supposed to believe I'm walking a dog," he 
said, "when it's actually a lion." 

The first task assigned to Moholy was the scenery for 
Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann. The spectator who came to lose 
himself in the sweetness of the "Barcarole," and to revel in a 
papier-mache image of the Canale Grande, found his conservative 
pleasures persiflaged by an unremittingly modern scene (Fig. 19). 
Instead of barges there were stainless steel folding cots for the 
romantic couples to recline on, pulled out of the bare wall at the 
musical cue of the conductor. Instead of a neon-lit sky studded 
with bulb stars, a tapered white ceiling led into a deep perspective 
from which Hoffmann's rococo figures emerged in costumes which 
contrasted the clownish tuxedo of Antonia's father with the 
futuristic mobility of his daughter's gown (Fig. 20). 

Moholy's Hoffmann was the event of the opera season, 
arousing an equal amount of enthusiastic support and fierce de- 
nunciation. In an interview for the MusikaMsche Monatshefte, 
Moholy wrote: 

Grand opera is dead, but much of its music cannot die. Let 
us shed the monstrous decorations that smell of glue and mold 
and will not fool a small child into an illusion of fairyland. 


Fig. 20. Antonio. Figurine from "The 
Tales of Hoffmann/' State Opera, Berlin, 

Let us test the staying power of so-called great music by having 
fun with its trappings. If we insist on grand opera, let us see 
it as contemporaries. 

But after designs for Mozart's Marriage of Figaro he felt his op 
timism crumble. In 1930 he wrote: 

Grand opera and Total Theater don't blend. One can't dress 
obsolete content with modern design. One could, but the 
guardians of tradition won't let us As long as writer, com- 
poser, and producer do not work as a creative unit to create 
theater art, all efforts at a th'eater revival will be wasted in 
feeble compromises. 

After one more setting for the Krolloper, Hindemith's 
Hin und Zuruck (Figs. 21, 22), Moholy saw a chance for thfe 
collaborative effort he had wanted. The Merchant of Berlin was 
a social drama written by Walter Mehring and produced by Erwin 
Piscator who was the director of a "political theater" in Berlin. 
The play used the German inflation of 1923 as a dramatic motif. 
A small Jewish speculator, desperately determined to provide a 
life of luxury for his tubercular daughter, teams up with national 
istic armament profiteers. In a frantic succession of finand 
maneuvers, they wring the last pennies from the starving masses, 
comforting them with the prospect of a new armament boom. 
In the end the Jew is ruined by his titled friends who ride intf 
political power on their illegal profits. The equally senseless deaf 
of those killed in battle and those starved to death hy the spec| 
lators is symbolized by the "Unknown Soldier" whose corpse | 


swept into the garbage bin together \\ith billions of \vorthless 
inflation money. 

Moholy's scenery \\as an experiment of great boldness. 
The tragic proletarian level, the tragicomic middle-class le\el, and 

Fig. 21. Stage Setting for operetta "Hin und Zurikk" by Paul Hindemith, State 
Opera, Berlin, 1930. 

the grotesque militaristic-capitalistic level were represented by 
three platforms, moving vertically on the stage. The different levels 
merged and separated, rose and fell, while endless conveyor belts 
carried men and objects in incessant motion. Neon signs glared 
into the face of the little Jew, wandering through Berlin in search 
of profit, and the Potsdam militarists were harassed by shrieking 
choruses of the starving unemployed, by enormous projections of 


,: :" 

...,;. ; 


=ig. 22. Die Was. Figurine from "Hin und Zuruck" by Paul Hindemith, State Op 
ierlin, 1930. 

statistics and slogans, and b\ adxancing and receding background 
units of slums and barracks. 

The curtain had not \et fallen when one of the most 
violent theater battles in Berlin's historv broke loose. Nationalists 
and Socialists in the audience attacked each other with fists and 
boots, slinging verbal mud which appeared in the next da>"s 
papers. Unanimity between Left and Right was only restored 
when it came to the stage settings. There the outcry against "intel- 
lectual decadence" and "technological mania" had all hues, from 
the crimson of the Social Democrats to the black-white-red of the 

Moholy was stunned. He could not understand why the 
public was so unprepared for a presentation which was much less 
extraordinary than, for instance, Schlemmer's Bauhaus Ballets, or 
some of the settings presented b} the experimental theaters in 
Munich, Frankfort, and Stuttgart. The Bauhaus had missed no 
opportunity to demonstrate that 

drama remains mere literature if an event or an impending 
event no matter how imaginative is formulated and enacted 
without a creative form peculiar to the stage. Only if the 
tensions inherent in the most constructive use of stage effects 
have been co-ordinated in a dynamic relatedness of action can 
we talk of stage technique. 7 

Walter Gropius had published his powerful appeal for a "Total 
Theater," demanding for 

the universal producer a great light-and-space keyboard, so 
impersonal and variable that it confines him nowhere and 
remains flexible to all visions of his imagination. . . . The Total 
Theater must be a mobilization of all spatial means to rouse 
the spectator from his intellectual apathy, to assault and over- 
whelm him, coerce him into participation in the play. 8 

New designs for theaters had been widely publicized, exposing 
the audience to projections on ceilings and walls, with U-shaped 
or circular stages, and with technical equipment ranging from 
percussion orchestras to apparatus for the inclusion of scent 
sensations into the stage effects. The question raised by the scan- 

7 Schlemmer and Moholy-Nagy, Die Buhne des Bemhauses (The Stage of 
the Bauhaus, Bauhaus B&cher, No. 4, 1924). 
8 Walter Gropius, Theaterbau (Reale Accademia U Italia^ No. XII, 1934). 


dal of The Merchant of Berlin was why all these suggestions and 
realizations had had no effect on the public taste. The answer 
propelled Moholy from a merely revolutionary into a social con- 
sciousness. It levealed to him the basic cause for the sociological; 
failure of the whole visual revolution. 

The defenders of the new vision were guilty of arf 
asocial isolation and a nonevolutionary abruptness. Their greatesj 
shortcoming was a lack of feeling for organic transition. Theoi 
retically Moholy had found convincing words against sophistical 
tion when he wrote in Die Buhne des Bauhauses: \ 

It is well to remember that the supposedly illiterate masses-J 
in spite of their academic "backwardness" usually formulati 
the healthiest instincts and preferences. Creative comprehenJ 
sion of the genuine, and not the synthetic, needs remains our 
permanent task. 

It was on the definition of the genuine and the syn 
thetic that the new theater art foundered. The experimental ballets 
and the persiflaged grand operas, performed before small select 
groups, had been successful because they appealed to intellectual 
curiosity They were one more manifestation of a new pattern of 
relative value in color and form. They never affected the masses. 
But the dramatic spectacle half drama, half comedy is an essen- 
tial part of European life. The existence of municipal theaters in 
the smallest provincial towns testifies to the eminent place it holds 
in the social pattern. It is in the theater that the people find theit 
illusionary paradises. The acceptance of a play by the spectator 
depends on the right balance between sufficient realism to permit 
self -projection, and a glorification of suffering distinctly not his 

In The Merchant of Berlin the traumatic agony of 
civic existence, the shame of exploited gullibility, and the secret 
hope for economic recovery by means of another world war, w$je, 
exposed with stark realism. The familiar trappings of heroisf ? 
and national pride were thrown into the ash can. The protest rf 
the Berlin audience was self-defense. 

If the co-ordination between actor and machine 
functioned according to Moholy's demand that "in the To) 
Theater man is no longer central as in the traditional theater, 1 


Fig. 23. Stage Setting for "Madame Butterfly/' State Opera, Berlin, 1930. 

he must be used as a representational means of equal value beside 
the new forms of light, space, motion, and tone," 9 perhaps the 
audience would have been intimidated b} the crushing power of 
this new symbolism. As it was, Moholy proved his own point that 
u in this concentration of mechanical eccentricities man has no 
longer any place." The inadequacy of the human voice against 
the roaring stage apparatus, the awkwardness of the human figure, 
dwarfed and flattened out by the assault of light beacons, mechan- 
ical motion, and cacophonous sound, seemed to refute the new 
dramatic vision. The union between man and machine stood 
accused. Reactionary zealots had a rare day of triumph. 

Moholy did one more stage setting the following year, 
a lovely light-play to the gentle score of Madame Butterfly. The 
mechanical experiments had been abandoned. He had decided to 
plead for visual revolution with the subtle means of kinetic light, 
the dramatic distortion of restless shadows, and the emotional 
excitement of transparency and translucency (Fig. 23). The only 
reminders of "Total Theater" and "mechanical eccentricity" were 
the costumes, which were orgies of pure color, and whims of line 
and form. But the fast-spreading political reorientation had al- 
9 Die Buhne des Bauhauses. 


ready changed public opinion from defensive criticism to polit 
ical assault, and even this score of finest values was denounced 
as "cultural Bolshevism." 

The famous twenties had come to an end, and the high 
spirit of creation sank into a coma, pathetically close to death, 
Much energy had been wasted, and the goal of an integrated 
visual and social world had not been realized. But there had never 
been a decade more generously permitting man to dream in pub 
he. Many of these visions had not endured, but they had isolated 
agents which could never be destroyed. New architecture had 
established functional and esthetic standards; in painting and 
sculpture the self-expressive reality of color, form, space, and 
motion had been proven; and the educational philosophy of the 
Bauhaus had restored man the fractional tool of industrial revolu- 
tion as master of art, science, and technology. It will remain the 
honor of the German Republic that it sheltered these forces and 
provided the means and the environment to formulate a new 
covenant between the creative individual and society. 



Madame Butterfly was still playing in the Kroll Opera 
House when I took over the scenario office of a large motion- 
picture company in Berlin. In a thickening atmosphere of nation- 
alistic isolation, the level of the Tobis production was above that 
of the average commercial firm. In leaving my pre\ious engage- 
ment with the State Theater in Darmstadt, Hesse, I hoped that the 
international character of Tobis would save it from a Fascist 
mentality. But in shrewd anticipation of future developments, the 
Dutch and Belgian stockholders suddenly sold out their interest 
to I. G. Farben, which acted as spearhead for Herman Goring's 
planned consolidation of Germany's industry under Nazi rule. 
This transaction, involving millions of marks, emphasized a sense 
of impending disaster spreading slowly among German progres- 

Hitler's power, which had been a provincial buffoon- 
ery, acquired an unexpected reality in 1931. At the time of the 
Tobis stock transfer, millions of unemployed men started to join 
his private army, the SA, or the "Storm Troopers." Newspapers and 
radio commentators became increasingly sympathetic to the new 
Weltanschauung. Big industry picked up the scent of a potential 
rearmament boom, and economists spared no mental acrobatics 
to reconcile Hitler's threatened liquidation of capital interest with 
the mouth-watering promise of annihilation of the labor unions. 
Life started to be obscured by miasmic clouds of cowardice and 

Among my colleagues at the motion-picture syndicate 
was Saul Levinson, who had made a name for himself by pro- 
ducing newsreels, short subjects, and educational films of high 
artistic quality. But the transfer of the company's stock had weak- 
ened his spine. He knew that the zeal of Joseph Goebbels for 
Volksaufklarung would cost him his neck if he did not prove his 


loyalty to the future Fuhi ei . Like many others he tried to save his 
skin by frantic attempts to hang new convictions on an undesirable 
family tree. 

One day in the winter of 1931 he called me over the 
house phone. 

"I'm in a fix, Peech, and you have to help me Some 
guy is down here in the projection room; unpronounceable name 
but supposedly famous. Has some photographs with him which 
look like so many darkroom accidents to me. Wants to run off 
some experimental film. But you know the situation. With, the 
new stockholders in control we can't show Kulturbolschewismus 
any longer. I don't want to be the one to tell him, though The 
State Theater boys sent him. They still count. He might be an 
insider for all I know. Tell you what. Fll scram and you look at 
his stuff; then throw him out, gently but firmly. I don't want his 
type around here any more." 

When I got to the projection room, a man was sketch- 
ing on the back of an envelope, explaining something to Levinson, 
who was watching the door instead of the paper. The visitor was 
medium-sized, and carefully dressed. He had a streak of white 
through his very black hair, and the simple features of a peasant, 
open blue eyes, high cheekbones, a heavy j'aw, and a full mouth. 
But his hands were small, narrow, and very sensitive. He smiled 
at me as if he had met me many times. 

"I'm so glad you could come. You are the scenario 
editor, aren't you?" he said, giving me a strange sensation of 
being his guest. "You'll be interested in this pioject." He handed 
me a sheaf of typewritten pages. "But we'll first look at the light- 
play. After you've seen it you'll recognize the idea." 

The strong r's and the soft s's of his Hungarian accent 
gave his speech a musical rhythm. 

"As I explained to this gentleman " { 

Levinson winked at me, pointing his right thumb over 
his shoulder to remind me of the kickout I was to apply. 

"I'm so sorry I have to leave, Professor. It was a great! 
privilege." Levinson bowed affectedly to emphasize the irony of 
his words. But the man, to whom I hadn't been introduced- smiled! 
without suspicion. 


After Levinson had left, he returned to his sketch. 
It represented two plate-glass mirrors mounted on an open truck. 
A film camera was directed at each mirror. As the truck \vas driv- 
ing through the streets of Berlin, each camera \\ould photograph 
the happenings of a single day between dawn and dusk. City life 
would be reflected, distorted, broken up, concentrated, through the 
medium of the mirrors. 

"We could tilt them at times/ n he said, using the 
plural as if it were I who would be with him on the truck. "Or 
we could use one flat and one concave surface/' 

He searched his pockets for another piece of paper, 
and produced a calling card on w T hich he drew a conca\e and a 
convex refraction scheme. As he handed the card to me, explaining 
how the mirage would work, I saw the name IASZLO MOHOLY- 

"Oh, it's you; you're Moholy-Nagy," I said, and his 
face, which had been serious in its intense concentration, lighted. 

"You know my name? How nice" as if everyone 
with an interest in modern art did not know who he was. But it 
was not an affected delight. It was genuine surprise, the joy of a 
child at being recognized. He never lost it, and even the incredu- 
lous intonation remained unchanged to the end of his life. "You 
really know my name?" floated gaily through the darkened hos- 
pital room during his last sickness fifteen years later, when an 
orderly turned out to be a former student of Black Mountain 

I had known his name for ten years, I told him. In 
1921 my conservative father had warned his daughters to stay 
away from a subversive art show called "Z>er Sturm" which was 
"polluting" the academic tradition of my native Dresden. The 
grave old man, a great architect and trustee of the Art Academy, 
had been particularly peeved by Moholy's collages, which he 
called "the cutouts of a child." Of course I had lost no time in 
seeing the forbidden show, and I had retained a vivid memory, 
not so much of specific paintings, but of a symphony of floating, 
merging, speaking elements of form. 

The tone in which I told my reminiscences must have 
been full of the superiority which my generation felt toward the 


academic backwardness of their elders. To us they were worth 
only a contemptuous laugh, which I expected to share with this 
man whose work had been so ignorantly attacked. But Moholy. 
Nagy reacted differently. 

"I could make your father understand a collage," he 
said. "I'm sure I could. If I had a chance to explain the basic 
idea to him the overlying planes, and the relationship of color 
and texture " 

He crossed his spread fingers in the form of a grill, 
a gesture which I later came to accept as the most characteristic 
expression of his drive toward integration. I was touched by his 
demonstrative zeal, which, at that moment, was focused on my 
absent and old-fashioned father as if it mattered whether or 
not he understood a collage. As I looked into Moholy's eyes, dark 
blue and startlingly direct, I realized half-consciously that for 
him everyone mattered. My supercilious mockery was as incom- 
prehensible to him as Levinson's sarcastic reverence had been a 
few minutes earlier. Until now, I had never met a total teacher, 

The operator in the projection room announced that 
he was ready and I saw the first version of "Light-Play Black- 
White-Gray," an abstract film which now has become famous in 
Europe and America. The patterns created by moving discs and 
rotating cylinders, by the solid black of dark metal and the trans- 
parencies of luminous plastic sheets, were totally new to my eyes, 
accustomed only to the obviousness of commercial film produc- 
tion. All I could do was see; I could not be objective, critical. But 
objectivity was what Moholy wanted. He was not interested in 
passive admiration; he did not even want the satisfaction of con- 
sent. This man whom I had never met before wanted my collabora- 
tion, and he wanted it then and there. He pressed another calling 
card and a pencil into my hand and urged me to take notes. The 
light-play ran its course. When it was over and I was unable to f 
make a single negative comment, Moholy was disappointed. ' 

"I was sure you'd have something to say." The tone ii; 
which he spoke made me feel absurdly guilty. | 

He called for the operator who had projected the fifay 
and asked his impression. Nussbaum was a typical Berliner-^f 
quick-witted and cynical. 


"Well, Professor," he started out. u m\ e\esight 
mustn't be any longer what it used to be All I could make out 
were shaking rods and rolling balls with a few window panes 
thrown in. Not that I want to be critical, but. . . /" 

"Yes, but?" Moholy interrupted eagerly, disregarding 
the sarcasm. 

Nussbaum was stumped No one ever asked his opin- 
ion and he hadn't cared about what he \vas asked to show. 

"You projected the film," Moholy urged him on. "You 
see films all day long. You know moie about it than I do. Your 
judgment would mean much to me." 

He smiled with the same intensity that had touched 
me when I had first come into the projection room. It now 
touched tough Nussbaum. His quick tongue was stuck. 

"That glass sheet with the holes . . ." he muttered. 


" pretty," said Nussbaum, smiling with infinite relief 
because he had remembered some detail. 

"All right, pretty. But what wasn't pretty?" 

"Well, hard to look at the reflections on those polished 

Nussbaum spoke slowly, amusing to listen to after the 
tempo of his usual speech. 

"Hard on the eyes," he concluded. 

"Very interesting." Moholy made notes on his card. 
"Let's go over it again. Perhaps we can cut it." 

"But Professor!" Nussbaum looked at his watch and 
so did I. 

"It won't take more than ten minutes," Moholy smiled. 
"If we stand here debating it'll take much longer. This time, 
please, record your impressions," he said to me. 

His features and his voice expressed a mixture of 
pleading gentleness and stubborn, almost threatening insistence 
which I later came to admire as the most successful coercion 
toward unconditional surrender. 

When Moholy left late that afternoon we had seen the 
film three times. Between us Nussbaum and I had a dozen calling 
cards filled with scribbled comments, and a new word light- 


display had been added to our vocabulary. Without knowing it, 
we had become collaborators and we had started to understand 
that, to a total worker, everybody mattered as a collaborator. 

A few days later I went to Moholy's studio to return 
a film manuscript which he had urged me to read The face of 
the young man who took me in the elevator to the top floor of 
the studio building on the Kaiserdamm reflected intense concen- 
tration. He was Gyorgy Kepes, a Hungarian painter who had 
come to work with Moholy a few years earlier. His reticence, and 
the perpetual solemnity of his mien, seemed to contrast strangely 
with Moholy's enthusiastic eloquence and outgoing cordiality, 
In time I came to understand their partnership. It was founded on 
their common devotion to seeing as a philosophy of life Their 
differences of temperament and social orientation, often aggravated 
by their furious Hungarian egos, were settled through a deep 
mutual understanding about the fitness of demonstrative means. 
It was a matter of common emphasis and common taste. Later, 
in their American years, they added to this unifying vision the 
dedication to teaching. On behalf of the shared responsibility for 
the future of universal design they formed a team which lasted 
for twelve years. It added much to the visual pedagogy of our 

Moholy's studio in 1931 looked like a relief chart of 
the landscape of design. There was almost no furniture; floor 
space was needed as a work area. From strings, extended across 
one corner of the room, long strips of film hung like spaghetti. 
It was a travelogue, ready to be cut and printed, which Moholy 
had brought back from Finland Over another part of the floor 
was spread out a sequence of sketches covers for the fashionable 
magazine Die Neue Linie, which frequently displayed Moholy's 
and Kepes' designs (Fig. 24) . Typewritten pages of a lecture on 
photography, cut into strips and put together like a jigsaw puzzle^ 
were lying somewhere else; and set up on a tripod was a camera 
aimed at a multitude of colored pins which were stuck in a white 
sheet on the wall For hours I literally walked through projects 
in advertising, typography, film, and photography. I was not 
asked to be an interested visitor. As in the film projection room, I; 
was asked to participate, to contribute The typewritten puzzle of 


Fig 24. Title page Die 
Neue Linie, 1930. 

the lecture was assigned to me first ; later I held a polished metal 
sheet to supply highlights on a pile of woolen fahrics to be photo- 
graphed for a clothing ad (Fig. 25). When suppertime came, we 
picked up some bread, cold meat, fruit, and cold tea from a wall 
cupboard. None of us seemed to think of going out to dinner. 

When finally Kepes had left and it was time for me to 
go too, I realized that something I had expected to find was 
missing. There wasn't a painting in the studio, no sculpture, not 
even a sketch. For ten years I had thought of Moholy as a painter 

one of the great four of the Bauhaus: Kandinsky, Klee, Fein- 

inger, Moholy-Nagy. Where were his paintings? 

After I had asked him, there was the embarrassed 
silence that follows a tactless question. Then: 

"I don't paint anymore." 

I looked over the multitude of projects in the studio. 

"You have no time just now?" 

"There's always time for painting," he said brusquely, 


Fig. 25. Price Labels for Woollen 

and the strange contradiction to his previous statement made it 
impossible to continue the conversation. 

When Moholy next called for me at my office, he took 
me to the worker's district near Berlin's Alexanderplatz. We 
climbed dark stairs until we reached a dingy office with a roll-top 
desk and an archaic typewriter. Moholy told me to wait, and while 
I stared into the light of a bare bulb I wondered why I did not 
resent this strange companion who, like a magnetic force, con- 
stantly changed my direction. In the two weeks I had known him I 
had edited several articles written in his picturesque but non- 
literary German; I had spent many tiresome hours posing for a 
magazine title-page which was to show only the silhouette of a 
woman's body against a glaring backdrop of light, and I had 
broken dates and appointments to be in Moholy 's studio at supper- 
time, loaded down with packages of cold meat, fruit, and pastry. 

"You can come in now," said a wispy little man from 
a door. 

In the center of a workshop stood a construction- 
half sculpture and half machine a combination of chromium, 
glass, wire, and rods, in which I recognized the forms of the 
light-display film. As it turned slowly, invisible lights flared up 
and turned off, producing gigantic shadows on the walls and the 
ceiling (Fig. 26). 

"This is beautiful," I gasped "It's magnificent. It 
is " and suddenly I saw the difference between concept and 
reality, "it is almost as beautiful as the film." 


Fig. 26. Light-space Modulator, 1922-1930. 

Moholy smiled. His whole face expanded with hap. 

"There, did you hear?" he said to the little man 

"Hear what?" 

"That the reflection is more powerful than the original, 
that I was right making a film 9 " 

"Film, tsszz," hissed the man, and it was quite obvious 
that this was the continuation of an old argument. "But the 
craftsmanship, the precision, where does that show in your blasted 

He took me by the arm. 

"Here, Lady, just take a look. See how that clears 9 " 
A small black ball rolled softly down a slanting rail passing 
through a rotating sphere. 

"And the grills? Have you noticed the grills?" There., 
was a sequence of chromium grills, their mesh formed by a variety 
of wire patterns. 

"The light reflects differently in every one of them. 

He started the machine again and the light played 
dramatically on the metal. 

"Film, my eye!" he repeated. "Craftsmanship that's 
what matters!" 

"We've been working on the machine for almost ten 
years," Moholy said as we went down the stairs. "I pay him 
whenever I've some money, but it has cost him more in time and 
materials than I'll ever be able to repay. He's a wonderful fellow, 
He's as obsessed by motion as I am by light." 

All during dinner we talked about the light machine^ 
which acquired human importance. Moholy explained its genesis 
by drawing on a sequence of calling cards his experiments, from 
the almost archaic wood sculpture he had done in 1921 to the 
floating glass construction in the center of the light machine, forer 
shadowing his later work with plexiglass. The Lichtrequisit ha<|j 
been exhibited in the room Moholy designed for the International'- 
Building Exhibition in Paris in 1930, and now he planned to 
chronize its motions with a musical score. 


"I'm so happy you understand/' he said. 'This is a 
wonderful day for me. You don't know what it means to me that 
you saw it." 

I did not know \et either. In future years, on our wan- 
derings through Europe and America, I \vould come to consider 
the light-display machine the problem child of my household be- 
cause it refused to pass custom authorities the normal way. When 
it finally came to rest in Chicago it had been declared a mix- 
ing machine, a fountain, a display rack for various metal alloys 
and a robot, and it had caused me more trouble than a dozen 
children. But on that first evening of our acquaintance I admired 
it, without reserve. 

"You'll write a music score," Moholy suggested, "and 
I'll compose the movements. Then we make another light-display 
film, this time with a sound track." 

"I can't write music," I said soberly. "I never have." 

"Of course you can." Moholy brushed over the table 
cloth. "Of course you're musical. I can hear it in your voice." 

"All I do is listen to music," I tried to modify his 

"You wouldn't want to listen if you didn't have the 
inner need to re-create what you hear. That proves } our musicality. 
Do you have another hour or two? Good, I'll show you that you're 

We went to a Hungarian restaurant where a gypsy 
band played dance music. 

"You know czardas?" 

"No, I've never danced it." 

"You will," he said, beaming. 

"Left and left right and right." His voice was as 
intense as if he were speaking an invocation. "Hands on my 
shoulders. Left and left. Now jump." 

From a slow square-dance rhythm we changed to faster 
and faster tempi. My hair came undone, my belt fell to the floor. 
An earring followed, but we didn't stop. I had never felt such an 
obsession for dancing, never had had a partner so obsessed. When 
we finally left the floor we were both drunk and we'd had no wine. 


In the weeks that followed I saw the multiplicity of 
Moholy's life his work for the textile trade and the fireproof 
glass industry, his posters, pamphlets, advertisements. With his 
friend, Herbert Bayer, he designed a settlement exhibition, the 
Gehag, demonstrating the urgent need for communal living. He 
set type for trade publications, arranged window displays, and 
worked on a sound film, engraving linear shapes on film negative. 
When he played it back on a sound projector he achieved a 
coincidence of tone and line that had never been demonstrated 
before. "I can play your profile," he would say to a friend, 
sketching the outline of the face in his notebook. "I wonder how 
your nose will sound " 

But I never saw him paint, and we never talked about 

Each visit to his studio was filled with participation 
in the task most urgent at that particular time. It was like being 
inducted as a recruit. Perhaps I was also courted, but it was a 
courtship without precedent. It spoke through tasks assigned and 
slow confidences and shared convictions. If it was love, it was the 
most complete objectification of sentiment. It fitted the deckhand 
philosophy I had gained fiom a previous marriage, which had 
failed, and it also answered my contempt for the glamorous 
extravagances of the "roaring twenties." 

Moholy's unremitting devotion to his work seemed 
hard to reconcile with his well-known friendship with one of the 
prettiest, most elegant young actresses of the Berlin stage. Her 
temperament and performance seemed rather incompatible with 
this total identification of life and task. Yet her picture appeared 
in many of Moholy's photographs and designs, his telephone 
conversations with her were of the charming politeness so peculiar 
to Austrians and Hungarians, and he usually called for her at 
night at the theater. He had mentioned a wife before. Was he 
divorced? I would have liked to know more about his personal 
relationships but I never asked the questions so much on my mind. 
In spite of his boyish enthusiasm and his radiant charm in contact 
with others, there was an element of remoteness, an ascetic dedi- 
cation in Moholy's character which rejected curiosity. It removed 


him from gossip and left his private life undisclosed, but it also 
removed him from close friendships. Even for those who loved 
him, he ever retained a touch of unworldliness. 

The idea of the film "Reflected Image," which he had 
tried to sell to Levinson that first afternoon we met, slowly took 
shape. I tried to work out a scenario in order to get some structure 
into the mirror-shots of the city. But the traditional rhythm of 
morning, noon, and night; of awakening, activity, and relaxation, 
seemed too trite. 

"I'm not thinking in chronological terms," Moholy 
finally said. "At least not in the accepted sense. The rhythm of 
this film has to come from the light it has to have a light- 

He crossed his spread fingers to form the grill I had 
seen in the projection room. 

"Light beams overlap as they cross through dense 
air; they're blocked, diffracted, condensed. The different angles 
of the entering light indicate time. The rotation of light from east 
to west modulates the visible world. Shadows and reflexes register 
a constantly changing relationship of solids and perforations. 
Come, I want to show you something." 

Moholy had to move his bed in the small attic room 
adjoining his studio to get into a storage vault. As I watched him 
open the door and saw tiers of stacked canvases, I felt intense 
expectation. What I would have taken for granted seeing the 
work of a painter in his studio had acquired unusual significance 
through Moholy's statement that he had given up painting. He 
searched for a long time in the storage space and then brought 
out two pieces: a canvas and a small plastic. The plastic a yel- 
lowish celluloid sheet had been painted on the surface and on the 
construction board underneath the translucent material. It showed 
the characteristic Constructivist cross in a balanced tonality of 
gray and red (Fig. 27) . As the light from a floor lamp struck the 
surface, the strong reflections changed the colors completely, 
almost dissolving them where the light was strong, and toning 
them down to fine gradations farther away from the light source. 
But it was the canvas that fascinated me most (Fig. 28) . A white 
transparent disk floated over crossed beams of a radiant red, a 


Fig. 27. Transparent Pi c . 
ture, 1923. Celluloid, oil 
paint, line drawing on con- 
struction board background. 

warm auburn, and a deep black. I was not aware that Moholy 
slowly moved the floor lamp from left to right. I saw the disk 
advance out of the flat surface, setting the different tone values 
of the beam in slow motion. Suddenly I understood the meaning 
of a light-chronology. The advancing and receding white of the 
disk and the colors of the beams were moved by light. The shaded 
hues of the celluloid picture, controlled by opaqueness and trans- 
lucency, had made it clear to me. This was the dramatic motif of 
the film "Reflected Image." 

"Why don't you paint anymore?" I asked, feeling 
reproachful in a personal sort of way. 

"Because art dies of stagnation." Moholy turned the 
pictures to the wall. "We're through with stagnant art." 

"Who's we?" 

"The original Bauhaus group." He lay down on his 
cot, hands clasped under his thick black hair. "We gave ten years 
of our lives to clarify the premises. Now that the means have 
been discovered and the solutions anticipated, there's a viciously 
ignorant publicity machine to separate us from the people. Their 
native instinct for organic values in design is systematically 
destroyed by an identification of revolutionary art with subversive 
politics. As if the art of living sensitively were not everyone's 

"The more reason to paint," I said, but he shook his 

"Art has to have a social reality," he stressed the 
word social, "expressing a socio-biological need that cannot be 


Fig. 28. A 17, 1923. Oil on canvas. 

gratified in any other way. There were many who understood this 
as long as we were permitted to teach." 

He smiled, looking up at the ceiling. 

"Children and very simple people: workers, women, 
those who are not afraid to seem what they are. They haven't heard 
yet what art is supposed to be. They always respond to pure color 
harmonies and basic formal contrasts." 

He jumped up and moved his cot again. He dove into 
the storage vault and came up with a large black portfolio. 

"Here it is." He held a photogram against the light, 
showing a spiral, a disk, and an oval on a deep black background 
(Fig. 29). 

"There was a kid, and you know what he said? He 
said: 1 never knew what night looks like.' It was the contrast 
between the white undefined form and the solid blackness that 


Fig. 29. Photogram, 1925. 

had made the emotional experience of night clear to him. That's 
what I mean by a spontaneous need for art." 

One night we stood on the top platform of the Berlin 
Radio tower. Below was an intricate pattern of light and darkness, 
the flashing bands of trains and automobile headlights; above 
were the airfield beacons in the sky. Moholy must have seen it 
a hundred times. He lived only a few blocks away, and he had 
done some fine photographs from the platform on which we 
stood (Fig. 30) . But his enthusiasm was that of a surprised child. 

"This is it almost this is almost painting with 

The engine of a train puffed thick, white clouds into 
the night; the billowy denseness was rifted by streaks of glowing 

"I've always wanted to do just this to project light 
and color on clouds or on curtains of falling water. People would 
respond to it with a new excitement which is not aroused by two-; 
dimensional paintings. Color would be plastic " \ 

His face was glowing, and at the same time relax! 
in the freedom of expression. j 

"You've never stopped painting," I said. "You can't 
escape being a total painter." 

"I know but I didn't think anyone else knew." 


Fig. 30. From the Radio Tower, from the film "Berlin Still Life/' 1932. 

was a flash of great warmth as he looked at me, and then his 
face closed up. "It's no use all the lights have been blown out. 
We're all going blind from isolation." 

"You have a friend." I mentioned the young actress 
whose companion he was. "And you had a wife." 

"Women!" He flipped his left hand contemptuously 
through the air. "They're only part they never are all. A good 
teacher that was my wife. Her mind was like a beacon, lighting 
up my own emotional chaos. She taught me to think. All the dis- 
cipline I have today I owe her. But it wasn't enough. I learned 
to remain alone with my emotions. And there's the good mistress 
beautiful, relaxing to the point of stupor. But it's like drinking. 
It only lasts through the intoxication. Afterward the isolation is 
only more bitter. No woman understands totality in a man. It's 
eternal self-ref erence : their ego, their looks, their careers" 

He stopped for a moment. 

"There's no patience in women. They can't let a man 

He clamped his hand on my shoulders. 

"If only I knew what you are. I can't make you out." 
And after a silence: 

" If I talked, would you listen, and if I painted again, 
would you look?" 

He let go of me. Slowly he walked to the opposite side 
of the platform. When I turned his face toward me I saw that 
he cried. 

The film "Reflected Image" was never made. To shoot 
street scenes from a truck we needed a special permit from the 
Bureau of Public Safety. But the nationalist gangs roaming the 
streets of Berlin had already terrorized the authorities to a point 
where they dreaded any demonstration that might provoke 
curiosity. There had been too many bloody riots between Hitler's? 
still illegal SS men and organized labor, fighting a hopeless* 
battle against totalitarianism which would wipe out the rights: 
of the worker. The project was rejected as dangerous to public! 


Rg.31. LaSarraz,1930. 

But we cheated the police nevertheless. For weeks we 
roamed the slum districts of Berlin, and Moholy shot the docu- 
mentary film "Berlin Still Life." While "Marseille/' the earliest 
of Moholy's documentary films, and '^Light-Play Black-White- 
Gray" had emphasized light and dark contrasts, "Berlin Still Life" 
had a horizontal-vertical planar organization Like the backdrops 
on an eerie stage, the shoddy tenements rise between man and 
man, leading into depths of ever increasing misery. In a human 
chaos of decay and disorder, the clean functional forms of 
machinery and the pleasant patterns of tracks and pavements 
acquire a ridiculous precision. Motion and countermotion of men 
and vehicles are deprived of any sensible direction b> the towering 
blackness of backyard walls and defaced fences, symbolizing more 
powerfully than direct action the grim atmosphere of economic 
depression and political defeatism. 

Through a coincidence it became known in my com- 
pany that I worked with "an independent film producer," as 
Moholy was styled in the accusation. I was fired, but my position 
had become untenable anyway. The political demarcation lines 
started to become visible across all trades and all classes. I also 
had learned that knowing Moholy was a full-time occupation. 
When summer came and he left for a vacation in Switzerland I 
realized for the first time that the six months of our active collab- 
oration had isolated me completely from my former world. I had 
started to live on a different plane. 

Summer vacation in Switzerland was an annual occur- 
rence in Moholy's life. He had found more understanding for his 
work and his problems among Swiss people than anywhere else. The 
friendship with Siegfried and Carola Giedion had added immensely 
to his knowledge of the historical and the philosophical elements 
in art. Many of his pictures had been bought by Swiss col- 
lectors. His summer visits always started in La Sarraz, a medieval 
castle near Lausanne where Madame de Mandrot maintained, 
each summer, open house for a select group of European artists. 
Women were not admitted to the circle, and the guests were asked 
to come without wives or sweethearts. This monastic arrangement 
was to provide an opportunity for concentrated creative work, 


Fig. 32. Moholy-Nagy at "la Sarraz," 1932. 

and for exchange of ideas, undisturbed by sex competition and 
the petty jealousies of women. Moholy was devoted to La Sarraz. 
He loved the surrounding country, the exquisite French food, the 
company of men of his own drive and convictions. Some of his 
best pictures had originated during these vacations (Figs. 31, 32)., 
This particular trip in the summer of 1932 seemed no different 


from those of earlier >ears. But a letter dated Jul\ 29, 1932, shows 
the significant psychological changes in the spiritual climate of the 
times : 


I have been here for two weeks and still I can't settle down 
to work. And it seems that no one else really can. There is 
something in the atmosphere that makes this different from 
other summers. Perhaps I have outgrown this rather artificial 
society of men. But I think it is something else. We are 
all so busy finding a new orientation in the political decisions 
of Europe that the easy group-spirit is gone. It is quite funny 
to watch us When we're among ourselves there is much 
political talk often quite violent and full of nationalistic 
animosities. G.A. the other day denounced me bitterly and 
stupidly for remaining in Germany, adding that I could do 
so only because Germans and Hungarians were equally fascistic 
at heart. And K , with whom I share a room and with whom 
I have worked so closely year after year, accused me of 
cowardice and lack of character because I am not a member 
of the Communist Party. 

Then we go downstairs where Madame presides over the table 
and we all behave like schoolboys. We pretend not to have a 
worry in the world and that we are the "carefree artists" 
Madame wants us to be. Last night we made figures from 
bread dough and bombarded each other with bread-balls. 
Someone suggested we come in costume, and we all tried to 
look as silly as possible. Later Madame selected one or the 
other to drive her to Lausanne for an evening of entertain- 
ment. She is quite old by now and has arthritis but we all 
pretend to enjoy her company immensely. It has always been 
this way. And I used to like it. The difference this year is that 
patronage suddenly seems to taste sour. Perhaps we are all 
more conscious of getting old and that is a lonely business. 

I went to Lausanne with S.G. [Siegfried Giedion] to see 
Corbusier's new house We had a wonderful time, as always, 
speaking plainly and openly about the implications of the 
political situation for international cooperation among archi- 
tects, and of the manifestations of social planning and indi- 
viduality in modern architecture Corbusier versus the English 
MARS group, for instance. When it was time to go back to 
La Sarraz it seemed almost ridiculous. It was as if everyone 
there were anxiously pledged to hide his true personality. 


When Moholy returned to Berlin at the end of the 
summer he was much gentler, much more open to being loved 
than before. It was as if the experience of La Sarraz, the failing 
international camaraderie of the arts, had confirmed our union. 
For a while, at least, he gave himself without the suspicious fear 
that the surrender would be exploited. For the first time he did 
not try to hide the magnitude of his involvement, and showed no 
resentment that he loved so much. 

In a spirit of defiance against the world without, and 
of confidence in the world which we had discovered within our- 
selves, we decided to make a film we'd call "Gypsies." It was a 
project Moholy had planned for a long time. Gypsies had been the 
romantic element in his Hungarian childhood. Their way of life 
was regulated by a primitive rhythm of child-bearing and dying, 
youth and age, ruling and obeying, independent of Western civi- 
lization. It was almost too late to record this ancient nomadic 
culture. Automobile and radio had reduced the horse-traders and 
fiddlers to utter poverty, and the still hypothetical race laws of 
the National Socialists were poised to exterminate these "non- 
Aryans" in Germany the day the Republic fell Europe's great 
vagabonds were disappearing fast, and Moholy decided on a last 

I was reluctant to face the great risk of making a film 
completely on our own. I urged Moholy to find first a distributor 
who would advance the production costs. As we pooled our 
financial reserves to buy material, I voiced my concern. 

"As an amateur you haven't a chance. The commercial 
producers have a monopoly on distribution. The number of inde- 
pendent theater-owners who might be willing to show an experi- 
mental film is decimated each week by a new law or a new tax. 
We'll have to find a company that is "in" with the chain-theater 
owners. Without it we won't even get to first base, because censor- 
ship and tax-office work hand in hand with the big industry to 
keep people like us ofi the market. They'll demand so many changes 
before giving us a tax-free educational rating that we'll be bankrupt 
long before we have complied. And there's no hope for a sound 
track. The war between the different sound systems has 1 driven 


all but the two largest patents from the market. And their royalties 
are far beyond our means if \ve have to pay it all from our own 

But my professional wisdom made no impression 

"I know," Moholy said. "I've been through all this 
with my other films, with "Marseille" and "Light-Play." I\e lost 
plenty of money. But it has taught me only that the fight has to 
go on. Who will work on problems of focus and motion, cutting, 
simultaneity and all that, if it is not ourselves? Most of the old 
avant-garde is gone, swallowed by industry or silenced by their 
own discouragement: Rene Glair, Picabia, Leger, Cavalcanti, 
Feyder, Renoir, Man Ray. I and perhaps Albrecht Victor Blum 
and Hans Richter are the only ones left. But I won n t force it on 
you. If you feel you'd rather " 

He smiled at me, and I knew I'd make this film even 
if I had to starve. 

The Gypsies were a sorry lot, indigent, neglected 
demoralized, and defiant. It would take a miracle to produce even 
a spark of the proverbial fire in them or gifts and bribes beyond 
our means. The old superstition that making an image of a person 
foreshadows his death was still alive among them and they were 
hostile to our attempts to film them or their children. We talked 
it over with the chieftains, who, next to the ruling matriarch, 
decide the fate of their group. A few of them seemed willing to 
take a chance with the images but they had their price, either in 
cash or in goods. Since the costs of raw film, developing, and 
printing would take all we had, I found myself begging my friends 
and acquaintances for highly colored clothes, costume jewelry, 
silk slippers, candy, and wine. This was during the depression. 
It didn't surprise me when most of them smiled thinly at my story 
of the Gypsies, and hinted that they thought either that I was 
down to my last blouse or that I must have decided to go into 
the used-clothing business. To continue my collections took more 
nerve than I actually had. When I told Moholy of my embarrass- 
ment, he was unimpressed. 

"You'll have to find your own scale of values," he said 
coldly. "You must decide what is more important to you: the 


opinion of your friends, or the work with me. Once you have made 
your choice there's no such thing as being embarrassed " 

I appeared each day at the Gypsy camp, loaded with 
what the canvass among Berlin's society had yielded: a feather 
hat, a doll, an iced cake, or some cans of food But even if the 
adults gave in to our bribes, they still tried to protect their chil- 
dren from the evil eye of the camera. And it was the children in 
whom Moholy was particularly interested. Their features were still 
undistorted by the adult struggle for survival. They were like 
ethnological flashbacks to the original Gypsies who had come from 
the highlands of Asia. Their songs and dances, which they had 
learned from their grandmothers, were still free from artificiality. 

Among the tribes was a Jewish girl from Palestine who 
had married a Gypsy. Her intellectual superiority to the rest of 
the women was quite obvious. She attached herself to Moholy with 
an open admiration, being our helper and informer. Moholy's 
total collaboration principle worked miracles with her. When we 
had finished our work and were leaving the camp she broke down 
and cried bitterly. Perhaps she knew that we had been her last 
contact with a free world, and she may have anticipated the long 
march to the gas chambers in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. 

But while we worked she was happy. With great cun- 
ning she persuaded the men of her clan into a card game, in the 
beer garden of a distant inn. Then she alarmed the wives about 
the high stakes and losses, sending them after their menfolk to 
break up the gambling. This gave us time to film the small children 
doing an ancient reel. We had just started taking pictures of the 
adolescents of the camp, engrossed in a strange game of swinging 
long black ribbons in a rhythmical dance, when the mothers re- 
turned. Screaming, they drove their youngsters back into the 
wagons, where they barricaded themselves, throwing sticks and 
wood chunks at us. Moholy was fascinated by their wild faces, and 
with a total disregard for the flying missiles he went on filming 
I feared for his skull, his eyeglasses, his camera, but he stood his 
ground until the film was spent. He was pale and silent on the way 
home but he didn't mention the incident (Fig. 33). 

When we returned to the camp next day it was deserted. 
The doors and windows of the gaily painted wagons were closed. 


Fig. 33, Gypsy Dancer from the film 

Only a small boy, who had been pla\ing with a dog, scurried 
toward his home-wagon when we entered the sandy circle. As 
Moholy focused his camera at him a sharp whistle stopped him. 
On the top of one of the adjoining brick houses stood a Gypsy, 
pointing a gun. 

"Leave or be dead," he said in the impressive Gypsy 

Moholy looked around. The windows of the wagons 
were open now, filled with the tense faces of men, women, and 
children. This was the chance for a panorama shot of the Gypsy 
community he had been waiting for. Forgetting the man on the 
roof, he started to move his camera slowly from window to 
window. There was a whizzing sound. A bullet streaked only a 
hand's-width from his shoulder and struck the sand. A few 
women shrieked and disappeared into the wagon. Moholy went 
on with his pictures. The man on the roof seemed dismayed. He 
filled the air with such a detonation of profanity that Moholy took 
the camera from his eyes and looked up, smiling admiringly. 
Whenever he detected a Hungarian word in the polyglot blast and 
there were obviously many of them he repeated it with relish, 
the strength of his voice matching that of his opponent. All faces 
had reappeared at the windows, laughing now as they watched 
the contest. Swiftly Moholy took up his camera again but the man 
on the roof was just as fast. He shot again, this time striking a 
wooden bucket which splintered noisily. A minute later there was 
a click in the camera, indicating that all the film in the magazine 
had been exposed. Unhurriedly, Moholy put his camera back in 


its leather case and walked across the yard to the footpath where 
I waited with the car. I noticed how white he looked as we drove 
away. A few minutes later I had to stop because he became sick. 

"Why didn't you leave when you saw the man on the 
roof meant business?" I asked, feeling annoyed at his bravura 
and irritated by my own agonizing fear. "Do you really think 
those film shots are more important than your life?" 

"No, I don't think so," Moholy said slowly. "I stayed 
because I was afraid. I'm easily afraid, that's why I always stay 
It's the only way of getting over it " He pointed to the white strand 
in his hair. "I got that in the Battle of the Isonzo during the war. 
Our dugout was undermined by the enemy and we expected to 
be blown up any minute. The married men in my unit cursed me 
for not withdrawing, even though I had no orders. From the floor 
I heard the Italians drill through the rock, and behind my back I 
heard the men loosen the safety catches on their guns. I've never 
been so afraid since. I was half-unconscious from fear, but I had 
to remain until I got orders. I'm not ashamed that I'm afraid. 
I am no hero " He smiled. "I'm no hero at all, and I hate danger. 
But I have learned to deal with myself." 

It was a principle that carried him through many 
extraordinary situations When he shot night scenes of "The 
New Architecture in the London Zoo," he had to balance himself, 
for a particular perspective, on the iron rods of a lion cage. The 
animal inside was incensed at the floodlights and the commotion 
and took enormous leaps trying to catch Moholy's ankles through 
the bars. Another time, a cornice on the roof of the India House 
in London had seemed the only spot from which to take pictures 
of a parade in the street below. Moholy usually became dizzy at 
unprotected heights. From my safe place on the center of the 
roof I saw him sway precariously, closing his eyes, and biting his 
lips before he took a firm hold on the camera and started to shoot. 
He had never been able to stand the sea, but many scenes in "Life 
of the Lobster" were taken in a raging storm from a tiny ketch, 
five miles off the Surrey coast; and the portraits of the fish-, 
mongers of Billingsgate in "The Street Markets of London" were* 
paid for by the enraged men with a bombardment of ice chunks; 


He often got sick after these experiences, but he showed 
neither pride in his stamina nor shame in his weakness. Slowly 
I came to understand that he took danger and discomfort as part 
of the total reality from which he never wanted to escape. As 
the years went by, this pragmatic endurance of life became one 
of the keys to his character and his success. 

The making of the G} psy film opened a completely ne\\ 
vista for me. I had been raised on the two standard laws of film- 
making: maximum light and sharp focus, to achieve pictorial 
effects. Moholy was consciously "unartistic." He felt an almost 
religious obligation to "camera truth," demonstrated through 
interpretive means peculiar only to the movie camera. These 
means, constantly misused or neglected in commercial film pro- 
duction, were the recording of motion through rhythmic changes 
in the focus, and the interpretation of depth in space through 
dark-light gradations. While I watched him, not without protest, 
shoot rolls and rolls of precious film in gray light or murky inte- 
riors, he explained why, in spite of their technical perfection and 
physical glamour, Hollywood films appear flat compared with the 
human depth of the cheap Continental productions. 

"All human life has its shadow. Without it, it stops 
being human. But the typical studio lighting this insane cross- 
fire of illumination creates a shadowless world that is without 
appeal because it is unfamiliar. How rarely does one actually see 
in sharp focus! There is an interplay of advancing and receding 
form in every movement the unit that moves and the unit remain- 
ing static. One of them is always "out of focus." And from the 
corners of our eyes we are conscious of shadowy objects and 
anticipated faces. The invariably sharp focus of the commercial 
camera takes none of this into account. Vision becomes two- 
dimensional, and therefore uninteresting." 

This principle of relative focus was effectively demon- 
strated in one of the Gypsy scenes. Our Jewish friend had again 
come to our help and had started a blazing battle between her 
sister-in-law and the camp midwife. Any conventional camera 
would have focused on the faces of the contestants, their changing 
expressions, the blows and clinches. Moholy started the scene by 
a quick succession of blurred images above the heads of the 


fighters slanting wagon roofs, tottering chimneys on the adjoin- 
ing buildings, swaying tree tops. When fists and flying hair came 
into focus, the momentum of the fight had been established and 
the actual details were almost irrelevant. 

Today only a reduced, commercialized copy of the 
film survives, but its production was an experience that could not 
be evaluated in material returns. We sat through many nights 
cutting the negative, and I came to understand the principle of 
time and space interpenetration. The sequence of the film was 
determined not only by chronological routine because the life of 
a community is not always a series of logical actions. The unifying 
element which demonstrated a peculiar visual pattern in a peculiar 
physical environment was the group impetus toward spontaneous 
action resulting from common stimuli Sunlight when the cooking 
kettle was set up in the windbreak of the wagon wall; driving 
rain while man and beast huddled against the wagon window, 
watching hopefully for a passing of the clouds; sound, the fiddle 
or the zither, and the magnetic drive toward each other, crystal- 
lizing finally into a dance. 

All the obstacles to commercial distribution which I 
had so glibly predicted were surpassed by reality. A young 
Hungarian had written a brilliant musical score. When the record- 
ing was finished a court decision declared our sound system 
illegal and the sound track had to be destroyed. The picture never 
passed the censor. The first objection was that it had been made 
by a foreigner who did not belong to the GeiSfem Film Chamber. 
We changed the title and I appeared as producer but it was rejected 
again as showing German social conditions in an unfavorable 
light. Without complaint Moholy buried his last hope for creative 
work in Germany. His world had become very abstract. 



Many oi Moholy's friends in France, Holland, and 
England urged him to leave Germany, but emigration was a 
difficult decision to make. He felt a deep loyalty to the country 
that had given him creative maturity and artistic recognition. It 
was one of the great tragedies of his life that the political events 
after 1933 clashed so violently with this feeling of gratitude. He 
defended German inventiveness, craftsmanship, and devotion to 
duty, and he liked to quote Goethe, who once had said in patriotic 
despair: "What is it that makes one German such good company 
and a crowd of them an assembly of asses?" In addition to this 
faith in the German potential, there was in Moholy as in all of us 
a furious defiance against a gang of criminals who pretended 
to represent a people of seventy million. This defiance compelled 
him to help friends and strangers who had been politically active 
and were now persecuted. They came to him for shelter and 
financial aid. They slept in his bed, in the bathtub, in the storage 
vault, and one was housed for weeks hidden behind paintings in 
the attic. The constant tension of hope for the passing of disaster, 
and the creeping suspicion of total defeat, wore Moholy's nerves 
thin and paralyzed his creative power. Like Sisyphus he labored 
each day to roll the stone of his courage uphill, only to see it 
crash down again with monotonous regularity. 

A week after the burning of the Reichstag in March, 
1933, an association of progressive intellectuals called a meeting. 
Carl von Ossietzky, editor of the political magazine WeUbiihne 
and Europe's greatest pacifist, had just been released from jail 
where he had served a sentence for defamation of the German 
army. He was to address the group. When Ossietzky mounted the 
rostrum he looked appallingly ill. It would have been thought 
impossible that he could survive another five years of prison 
torture. By his side was Erich Muhsam, who had fought many 
battles with him, a bearded husky man of fierce vitality. 


"By police orders I have been restricted to twenty 
minutes," Ossietzky put his watch before him. "So let me be short 
and direct. I foresee times of unparalleled hardship and terror 
which can be visualized only by those of us who know the jails 
of our opponents. There will be oppression, dispersion, death. But 
the task remains unalterable the task to oppose war and to defend 
the dignity of man. You will understand that I cannot specify our 
actions. I wish to close this meeting without police interference." 

He made a sweeping gesture toward the doors which 
were guarded by heavily armed police. 

"But let me tell you that there can be no escape from 
carrying on. Whatever may happen to every single one of you, 
there has to be, before you fall, someone to take up your par- 
ticular banner of political, intellectual, artistic, freedom. Men are 
weak. The mortality rate of conviction and character is tremendous. 
Soon you will be the only ones left. It is up to you to preserve the 
unity of spiritual and political freedom." 

He turned to his friend with a sad smile of resigned 

"We have been offered many opportunities to go 
abroad. But we have decided to stay. We want to remain the 
German conscience within its borders." 

Two years later Miihsam was slaughtered in a con- 
centration camp. Carl von Ossietzky died in 1938 of tuberculosis, 
a few months after the award of the Nobel Peace Prize had forced 
his release from Dachau. 

As we left the meeting, Moholy was constantly wiping 
his glasses, clouded with the tears he tried to suppress. 

"When he speaks, he must smell the prison walls, the 
rotten food, he must hear the frightened voices," Moholy said as 
we talked about Ossietzky in a small cafe. "How can he do it? 
How can anyone decide on this conscious self-sacrifice and remain 

Into the cafe had come two men, one a well-known 
composer who had written the score for the ill-fated Merchant 
of Berlin, and the other the drama critic for the Rote Fahne, a 
Communist newspaper. 


u Mind if \ve sit down?" said the composer, and after 
he had ordered coffee and cigarettes: "Ho\v did >ou like the 
meeting, Moholy? Prett> grim, wasn't it?" 

"Pretty grim and prett) final," said Moholy. 

The usually beaming baby-face of the composer had 
a new expression of scorn that night. 

"Tough times for esthetes," he said provocatively. 

"Whom do you mean by esthetes?" 

"Artists, individualists, the precious soloists of action." 

"You mean Ossietzky?" 

"Yes, and others like him." 

"Ossietzky precious!" Moholy exclaimed bitterly. "He 
is giving his life, and he has given, already, his health and hisj 
freedom. He didn't ask for isolation tonight. He asked us to fight.* 1 

The composer whistled sharply through his teeth. 

"And how are you going to do it? Fight a well-org 
ized opponent like the Nazis, I mean?" 

"Each according to his means," said Moholy. * 
with your music, I with my art " 

"Art," snapped the man from the Rote Fahne. 
for the dandies or art for the people?" 

"That is a meaningless phrase." Moholy was imja 
"If art is genuine it is creative revolution, regardless of 
at it." 

"And perhaps regardless of who makes it a<3 
or a traitor? What a joke!" 

The composer gulped his coffee, then he 
the table, his face close to Moholy 's. 

"Well, this may be my last chance, so let j 
one thing. It is you and your kind who sold revo 
down the river and it is you who deliver guys like tl 
Ossietzky to the gallows. With your decadence and 
experimentation you have destroyed the confidence * 
in artists and writers. Because you fooled them 
in art any more. They won't lift a hand for you 
battle comes, and it's at the door now. And when 
had the gleam of the victor in his eyes, "they'll 

hang. There's no place for you in a proletarian state." He paused, 
hoping it seemed for an argument. "Go where you belong 
before they cut your throat to the capitalists who finance Hin den- 
burg and Bruhning, Hitler and the Bauhaus; better still, join the 
long-haired martyrs who make death a show business. But don't 
dare to use the word revolution again. It makes me sick." 

He took his coffee and motioned his friend to follow 
him to another table. 

We didn't talk on our way home, but Moholy asked 
me up to his studio that night His face was calm now, neither 
pained as when he had listened to Ossietzky nor infuriated as 
during his talk in the cafe. While I made tea he started to draw 
on typewriter paper. There were circles, a multitude of large and 
small rings, floating unrelatedly through space. He tried charcoal 
and the circles became balls, rolling over sheet after sheet which 
he flung on the gray linoleum floor. Later he took his colored 
chalks from the drafting table across the room. 

"I'll go now," I said reluctantly, afraid to break the 
spell for which I had hoped so long. 

"Oh no," he said with emphatic protest. "You don't 
go not now." And after he had taken some tea: "Do you know 
Diirer's woodcut of St. Hieronymus? He has a lion under his 
desk while he works. You're my lion." 

He went back to his work and slowly an interplay of 
colored forms appeared on the paper, circles and rectangles on 
varied backgrounds of red, brown, yellow. It was long past mid- 
night when he pulled a sheet of water-color paper from a drawer. 
He used compass and ruler now, slowly dipping the crow's quill 
into India ink, wiping it clean, dipping, trying the thickness of the 
stroke on scratch paper. Spheres, wide connecting bands, finely 
engraved shading lines appeared almost simultaneously. At four 
in the morning he left the studio to get water from the bathroom. 
At his return he saw me in coat and hat, and his expression was 
almost of shock. 

"But you can't go now I told you, you can't! Don't 
you see?" Helplessly he looked at me, at his work, and at me 
again. "Don't you see that I need you?" 


By dawn a pattern of ordered spheres had been cre- 
ated, related to each other by beams of light and fields of tension, 
a moving universe whose motion was sustained b) the interde- 
pendence of all its worlds (Fig, 34). 


Fig. 34. Water Color, 1932. 

A few weeks later I knew that I was expecting a child. 
Although events since Hitler's rise to power In January, 1933, had 
made it quite clear that we were defeated, and that the frontal attack 
of National Socialism aimed at physical destruction of its oppo- 
nents, I was winged with happiness. But Moholy reacted differently. 

"An artist should be free," he said brusquely. "He 
can't be tied down by a family. Least of all now. I don't want a 
child." I 

"But you'll have one." For the first time during our 
life together his opinion didn't seem to matter. "I want this child." 


"Then it's your responsibility. Don't count on me. This 
is no time for anything that needs stability." 

"Don't worry. I won't need your help." I felt a mag- 
nificent confidence in my ability to raise a child unaided. "But 
one day I'll make you love it," I added with a flash of intuition, 
"because it's your child and it will be intelligent and beautiful." 

In 1922 in a youthful burst of world challenge Moholy 
had written: 

We only consider a man a hero and worthy of our interest 
and our admiration who is qualified by nature and education 
to fulfill his hierarchical function without losing the powerful, 
original, and mtegrative impetus of the creative individual. 

In 1933 there were few men left to qualify under this defini- 
tion. The powerful, original, and integrative individuals were 
fighting a forlorn battle, cut off from their hierarchical func- 
tion fay a concentration camp legislation, and from contact with 
each other by weakhearted traitors in their midst. It was a matter 
of spiritual survival to reaffirm ideological bonds with friends and 
co-fighters outside the sick German culture. In the summer of 1933 
Moholy left Berlin to attend the fourth congress of CIAM. 1 It is 
with great indebtedness to Dr. Siegfried Giedion that his account 
of this gathering is added to this book. 

M0koly*Nagy and CIAM travel to Greece. 
At a meeting in the studio of Le Corbusier in Paris in April, 
1933, I had to inform my friends that the country which had 
invited us to hold our fourth congress within its borders had 
suddenly withdrawn the invitation. 

Wliat should we do? Our different groups had completed the 
analysis of thirty-two cities according to common measure- 
ments and principles. This material was to form the basis of 
<wur Bext meeting. Marcel Breuer, who participated in the 
meeting at Le Corbusier's, suggested holding the fourth 
not on dry land but on a ship. Le Corbusier tele- 
Christian Zervos, editor of the Cahier D'Art, and a 
few ifecwrs later we had the assurance of the Greek steamship 
Vm Me$&>$ &at the "SS Patria II" would be at our disposal. 

& Architecture Moderne. 

The congress would he held between July 29 and August 13, 
1933, while we crossed the Mediterranean from Marseilles to 
Athens and back. 

Moholy met us in Zurich to drive with me, my wife, and a 
secretary through France. The trip through the Alps and 
Provence was a harmonious beginning of our venture. Moholy 
had agreed to make a film about the congress. He alfeo sat 
together with Le Corbusier, Jean Bardovici, the publisher of 
Architecture Vivante, Otto Neurath, the originator of the visual 
statistics, and the Swiss architect Steiger in the commission 
which would publish the findings of the Congress. 2 

One of the great difficulties of our culture rests with the fact 
that we have lost our common vocabulary. When representa- 
tives of science and art, philosophers, architects, or historians 
meet, there exists no basis for mutual consent but rather a 
morbid fear that any definite formulations might be mis- 
interpreted or misused by opposition groups. 

It is the significance of the CIAM that it tries to avoid this 
alienation by selecting its members in a manner so far em- 
ployed only by the academies. Ever since its inception in 1927, 
the guiding principle in this selection has been not traditional 
but progressive. CIAM is governed by complexity of talents 
and variety of personalities, working toward an equilibrium 
of individual and collective thought. 

The creative intensity of personal contacts, based on diversity 
of character and unity of goal, never produced better results 
than at the fourth congress. The staterooms and cabins of the 
"SS Patria II" changed into conference chambers. In smooth 
weather the meetings were held on deck, and town plans were 
mounted in the open air. The reorganization of thirty-two 
cities was discussed from many different viewpoints. Since 
identical signs, colors, and scales had been employed, the plan 
of London could be discussed in the same terms as that of 
Como, Detroit, or Stockholm. When we stepped on land again 
we had drawn universally valid conclusions which were for- 
mulated in the "Charte d*Atkenes, 1933," It supplied directives 
for contemporary town-planning which in the meantime have 
become widely accepted. 

2 The outbreak of the war in Europe delayed this publication, which 
finally was added to the book by J. L. Sert, Can Our Cities Survive (Harvard 
University Press, 1941). 


Bg. 35. Acropolfe, 1933. 

It seemed incomprehensible in manv quarter"- that v*v as the 
most outspoken representatives of modern architecture had 
chosen Greece as our meeting place It \vas interpreted as an 
attempt to escape. 

" 4 In selecting Greece as the destination of our trip/' I said in 
my opening address, "v^e do not try to escape from the chaos 
threatening Europe, ^e aim rather at combining with an 
opportunity for undisturbed deliberations a moment of con- 
centration and contemplation to face the decisive problems 
which have started to crystallize in our subconscious rnmd." 

These problems of the subconscious became fully clear only 
after the congress was over. They were a development of the 
purely functional tendencies in architecture toward a greater 
mclusiveness of other elements, esthetic, social, biologic The 
full evaluation of this new, independent platform had been 
helped immeasurably through the contact with the past and 
our Hellenic heritage. 

"I never realized,"' Moholy said as we stood on the hill of the 
Acropolis, "how deeply we are still moved by the Greek world, 
though in a totally different, more fundamental, way than was 
the nineteenth century." I was reminded of a sentence he had 
written ten years earlier in the German magazine Der Sturm : 
"We must replace the static interpretation of classical art with 
the dynamic interpretation of classical universality." 

Nothing had diminished this concept. The broken pieces of 
the columns around us looked as if the Pentehan marble had 
cracked yesterday. Silently, Moholy and I absorbed the totality 
of this sacred area, the arrangement of the buildings which was 
without rigidity, almost accidental, yet cunningly calculated in 
floor-plan and detail. It was a perfect fusion of mathematical 
precision and organic freedom. There was no danger that the 
design of capitals or columns would ever move us to imitation. 
What touched us deeply was the immediacy of formed expres- 
sion, the overt contrast between the planned maximum solu- 
tion of architecture, and the structure of the primordial rock 
ledge (Fig. 35 j. 

My memory went back to other rock ledges Belle lie en Mer, 
an island off the coast of Brittany. I had spent my first -vacation 
with Moholy there in 1925. I remembered the long conversa- 
tions in the isolated hotel where ^e had first clarified what 
had to be achieved in our time. I remember Moholy taking a 
photograph of the terrace from a window high above it which 


Fig. 36. Moholy-Nagy and 
Hattula, 1934. 

was financed by Catholic politicians who hoped for a comeback 
after the downfall of the National Socialists. But within a few 
months, they were forced into bankruptcy by fiercely anticlerical 
measures which banned all religious pictures from German movie 
theaters. I turned to newspaper reporting for juvenile and domestic 
court trials. Hiding my equatorial waistline under a ridiculous 
Victorian cloak which I had discovered in a secondhand clothing 
shop, I listened day in and day out to evidence of marriages "gone 
wrong 1 ' and children who hadn't turned out so well. It lent a 
depressing note to the last months of my pregnancy. 

Moholy was stunned by his daughter. For the first time 
in his life he forgot about himself. The baby's reaction to light and 
sound, changes in color and movement, were revelations to him. 
He engaged in a running battle with a succession of nurses who 
objected violently to his disregard of schedule and routine. When- 
ever foe could find time he continued a film started the day after 
his daughter's birth. At midnight or at seven o'clock in the morn- 
ing fee attacked the bassinet with his camera or he carried the child 
into the STOW or balanced her on a window sill to get better light 
and iBOre interesting shadows. Hattula was the most recorded child 
in Europe, td Moholy's friends came to dread his inevitable reach 
into las breast-pocket for the latest series of baby pictures (Fig. 
36). It all came to a climax when I resumed my customary "open 

Hie men and women who came on these Sunday 
actors^ dancers, writers, painters, and musicians. The 
5 of &eir world of uninhibited freedom and radical polit- 
ical tiowfitiftoas, tfce increasing alienation of their audiences, and 


the distrust in each other's integritv and character under Nazi 
pressure, had aggravated their tendencies toward esoteric talk 
and liquor. Thev were a nocturnal lot, far removed from the 
lullaby of normalcy. That night MohoU showed his latest film 
experimentthe ABC's scratched into a sound track. Placed back 
it produced a strange tone sequence, a third dimension, so to 
speak, to the written and spoken alphabet. It was a good moment 
for me to disappear to feed the babv, unnoticed bv our highstrung 
visitors. But I hadn't reckoned on the pile of overclothes on mv bed. 
In shorter and shorter intervals dancers, actors, writers rushed into 
the bedroom, grabbed their coats, and, with a horrified look at 
the suckling infant, raced out of the room. It was a silent panorama 
of faces petrified by indignation and embarrassment. When I 
returned to the studio Moholy had just finished showing the film 
of his daughter's progress. To make sure that no detail of her 
personality and of our loving care was overlooked, he had run it 
twice. When he turned on the lights ever) one had left. He was 
totally unmoved by the exodus of our guests and he w r ould have 
been content to show the film a third time to himself. But Sergei 
Eisenstein, Russian director of "Potemkin" and other famous 
revolutionary films, was still there. He had dropped in that after- 
noon between trains en route from America to Moscow. He was 
sitting on the floor, propped against the projection tripod, and it 
wasn't clear whether he had remained out of inertia or friendship. 

"Why do you go back to Russia?" I asked him. He 
had been working with Upton Sinclair on a film about Mexican 
peons which had displeased his government. "Aren't you afraid 
that you'll be put on trial?" 

"Of course I'm afraid," he said, uncorking another 
bottle of brandy. 

"And you go back?" 

"Yes, I'm going back. A man can't live without a 

"Oh, come on," said Moholy, slightly contemptuous 
about his friend's remark, which sounded patriotic in a shopworn 
way. "For an artist there's no such thing as his country/* 

Eisenstein gave him a long look. He had blue eyes 
of an extraordinary expressiveness. His face was drawn. For a 


man of fort) he looked old. All his life-energy was concentrated 
in the intensity of his eyes. 

"You're a child," he said in his heavy accent "You 
know nothing. You'll remain in Germany?" 

"I I don't think so," Moholy admitted reluctantly. 

Eisenstein drank, staring into his glass between sips. 

"Another country all right. You work, earn money, 
eat, sleep. Politically you don't count. No voice. You're mute. You 
read papers. Your country suffers, there are great decisions, vic- 
tories, defeats. But you're an exile. No voice. You're mute " He 
\viped his mouth with the back of his hand. "The very name of 
your country becomes an insult Russian, German, Hungarian, 
whatever you are. You hide it, you don't admit it any more. Afraid 
you're afraid to lose your bread. Secretly you go to the little 
restaurants of your nationality you wouldn't set foot in such 
places at home. You keep company with workers, waiters, bums. 
You talk politics. They don't understand you. Doesn't matter. 
They're your people. And when you die they say you die speak- 
ing your own language." 

He stopped talking. 

"Who thinks of dying?" Moholy was embarrassed by 
Eisenstein 's emotionalism and the heavy silence. "Death and 
language nonsense. As an artist you have one adherence and 
that's your art. We liquidated countries fifteen years ago. Our 
nationality is the idea." He took a deep breath. "Nationalism is 
totally obsolete," concluded the man who, ten years later, would 
found the Council for a Democratic Hungary in Chicago. 

For three months our little family group lived together. 
By January, 19S4, one year after the collapse of the Weimar 
Refjefolie, it had become clear that to remain in Germany was 
futile and dangerous. 

As we stood beside the train that would take Moholy 
<n*r the border, he smiled with infinite warmth, thinking back 
oter tibe past weeks. 

*Tve &ever been so happy and at peace with myself." 

A gprotip of Jewish emigrants crowded together on 
4e pbtfora. TTacf were tagged with white labels fastened to the 

cuffs of their sleeves. Their luggage consisted of inadequate card- 
board boxes. A string of blai k-uniformed SS men with rubber- 
stamp inartiality on their fares stood on guard. 

"They have both lost their identity j" 1 said Moholy, 
"the refugees and the rulers." He smiled at me. 'Til paint again 
as soon as we find a home " He took the latest of the baby pictures 
from his wallet. "There's m\ daughter and one da\ she'll ask what 
it was her father did to prove his identity/' 

This was one day after an episode which had illus- 
trated the funereal irony of our \\orld. Germany's withdrawal 
fiom the League of Nations had been preceded by a planned propa- 
ganda campaign stressing the '"brotherly" unity between Germany, 
Italy, and Japan. Speeches and newspaper editorials were filled 
with eulogies on the eternal friendship between the Fascist nations, 
and with promises of the unlimited territorial and economic ad- 
vantages which would result from this "axis." But to accept 
Mussolini meant to accept also his cultural program, which stood 
in striking contrast to the Hitler crusade against "Cultural Bolshe- 
vism." Not only had Mussolini supported the international style of 
architecture in his vast projects, creating new towns in the Ligu- 
rian swamps; he had also been a benevolent patron of "Futurism" 
in writing and painting, and had appointed Marinetti, the arch- 
Futurist, as his minister of cultural affairs. 

With the same sleight of hand which later was to startle 
the world with a Russian alliance, the National Socialists decided 
to forget "cultural Bolshevism" for a week and to please Mussolini 
by inviting F. T. Marinetti and his circle to Berlin. In one of the 
many art galleries along the Schoneberger Ufer, empty now because 
their owners had either fled or were slowly dying in concentration 
camps, a large exhibition of Futurist paintings was put on show. 
Prampolini, Carra, Boccioni, Severini, Balk, were all represented 
by semi-abstract canvases and dynamic sculptures trying to "give 
the essence of movement without the thing that moves." In cubes 
and rectangles the material form of the object was dissolved, and 
its dynamism expressed in a wild symphony of interwoven lines 
and planes. 

Marinetti's lecture was a last gathering of German 
artists and intellectuals just before the great diaspora. There wasn't 


a uniform in sight. With his enormous cleverness, Marinetti had 
judged his audience at a glance. In brilliant French he stressed 
the international and progressive elements in Futurism. 

W<? declare that the glory of the world has been enriched by 
a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car, its com- 
pressors roaring like fiery monsters, is more beautiful than 
the Victory of Samothrace 

We are on the promontory of a new century. Why look behind? 
Past and tradition are dead. We sing the multivoiced surf of 
revolutions. . . . 

he recited from his "Manifesto," which in twenty years had lost 
nothing of its youthful ecstasy. Neither the Axis nor Mussolini 
were mentioned. When he ended there was frantic applause. For a 
few minutes the abstract forms on the canvases had obscured the 
ideological alliance with Fascism. 

The following night the German Press Association 
gave a banquet for the Italians, to which we had received a per- 
sonal imitation from Marinetti. Moholy was unwilling to go. He 
had been shadowed by the SS; his refusal to submit his paintings 
10 the censorship of the National Socialist Art Chamber to obtain 
a ** working permit" had been followed by threats of arrest. His 
cleaning woman had stolen his mail and had delivered it to the 
Bfockwwt (political district warden), and some of his associates 
bad disappeared mysteriously. He was done with Germany, and 
on his last night in Berlin he didn't feel like sitting down with 
the new rulers. But Kurt Schwitters, who was our house guest 
al the lime, insisted on going, to honor the revolutionary in 
Mariaetli, md be finally persuaded Moholy to join him. 

Kurt was profoundly worried about the political tide. 
His rebellious clays weire over. At forty-six he wanted to be left 
$w&$nfestei enjoying a secure income from his real estate and 
Us tfpofrm^bical wort, and puttering away on his gigantic MERZ 
a $$%Ajftmm of compound forms which extended from a 
<rf fefe fltacKo through two stories of his house, winding 
bi and ot til doers aad windows, and curling around a chimney 
on tfe twf. Ttorf was nothing he dreaded more than emigra- 
ting He dW a krohtt mm m England in 1948. 

The banquet offered a \ery different picture from 
the lecture the night before and confirmed all of Moholj's mis- 
givings. Shoit of Hitler, all the "Wis were present: Goebbels and 
Goring, August Wilhelm of Hohen/ollern, the president of the 
Berlin University, Gerhart Hauptmann, once the torchbearer of 
revolution but now a chipped plaster image of Goethe. Hess was 
there, and with him was fat Rohm, whose da>s were already 
numbered. These officials were sitting along a huge horseshoe 
table, while Nazi underlings and the artists whom Marinetti had 
insisted upon inviting sat at individual tables. Mohoh, Schwitters, 
and I were sandwiched between the head of the National Socialist 
Organization for Folk Culture, arid the leader of the "Strength 
Through Joy" movement. The disharmony between the guests 
was accentuated by the absence of speeches and an unlimited con- 
sumption of excellent German Rhine wine. Moholy was silent. 
His face was shuttered, and when our eyes met I saw that he was 
full of resentment. The more Schwitters drank, the more fondly 
he regarded his neighbor. 

"I love you, you Cultural Folk and Jo>," he said. 
"Honestly, I love you. You think I'm not worth) of sharing your 
chamber, your art chamber for strength and folk, ha? I'm an 
idiot too, and I can prove it." 

Moholy put his hand firmly on Schwitters' arm and 
for a few minutes he was silent, drinking rapidly and searching 
the blank face of his neighbor with wild blue eyes, 

"You think I'm a Dadaist don't you," he suddenly 
started again. "That's where you're wrong, brother. I'm MERZ." 
He thumped his wrinkled dress shirt near his heart. "I'm Aryan 
the great Aryan MERZ. I can think Aryan, paint Aryan, spit 

He held an unsteady fist before the man's nose. "With 
this Aryan fist I shall destroy the mistakes of my youth" "If you 
want me to," he added in a whisper after a long sip. 

There was no reaction at all from the "Strength 
Through Joy" man while the official from the Folk Culture 
Organization nodded droolingly, his round cheeks puffed up with 
wine and amazement. Schwitters took a sudden liking to him, 


U 0h joyful babyface," he muttered, tears running 
down his cheeks. "You will not prohibit me from MERzmg my 
MERZ art?" 

The word "prohibit" had finally penetrated the foggy 
brain of the "Strength Through Joy" man. 

"Prohibited is prohibited [Verboten ist verboten]" 
he said with great firmness and a heavy tongue. "And when the 
Fiihrer says "Jo? he says Va' and when the Fuhrer says 'Nem' he 
says %/*.' Heil Hitler!" 

Schwitters looked wildly at Moholy, at me, at Mari- 
netti, but before he could incite anyone to action, Marinetti had 
risen from his chair. He swayed considerably and his face was 

"My friends," he said in French. "After the many 
excellent speeches tonight" the silent officials winced "I feel 
the urge to thank the great, courageous, high-spirited people of 
Berlin. I shall recite my poem The Raid on Adrianople.' " 

There was polite applause. Some nice poetry would 
break the embarrassing dullness of the dinner. 

Adrianople est cerne de toutes parts SSSSrrrr zitzitzitzitzi 
PAAAAAAAAAAAgh rrrrrrrrrrrrrr 

roared Marinetti. 

Ouah ouah ouah, depart des trains suicides, ouah ouah ouah. 
The audience gasped; a few hushed giggles were audible. 

Tchip tchip tchip feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelez r 
He grabbled a wineglass and smashed it to the floor. 

TcMp tchip tchip des messages telegraphiques, coutuneres 


sssssssssrrrrrrrr, zitzitzit town toum 

Maraaetii threw himself over the table. 

, viande congeleeeeeeee veilleuse de La Madone. 
jirbg a|pat ^ a whisper from his lips. 

Slowl) he slid to the floor, his clenched fingers pulling 
the tablecloth downward, wine, food, plates, and siherware pour- 
ing into the laps of the notables. 

Schwitters had jumped up at the first sound of the 
poem. Like a horse at a familiar sound the Dadaist in him re- 
sponded to the signal. His face flushed, his mouth open, he fol- 
lowed each of Marinettfs moves with his own body. In the 
momentary silence that followed the climax his ejes met Moholy's. 

"Oh, Anna Blume," he whispered, and suddenlv break- 
ing out into a roar that drowned the din of protesting voices and 
scraping chair legs, he thundered: 

Oh, Anna Blume 

Du bist ron hinten icie von vorn 


From a number of possibilities Moholy had chosen 
work in Holland in preference to offers from England and Amer- 
ica. He had not yet accepted the Hitler government as a finality. 
Each new outrage only strengthened his conviction that such a 
monstrous regime could not last. To renounce his old ties com- 
pletely and to leave the Continent would have meant to admit 
total defeat. Holland was still close to Germany. 

His new position as typographical advisor to a large 
Dutch printing firm paid well and promised a chance to explore 
color photography. Moholy divided his workday between layouts 
for textile magazines and book covers, and laboratory and dark- 
room work with a color expert. In February, 1934, he wrote to me: 

Frn learning my lesson like a good boy. I make tables of 
chemicals and exposures, and I work my way through a whole 
series of processes from a simple kodachrome shot to a very 
intricate multicolor print As soon as I feel I have understood 
the technology of the thing, the real work will start Up till 
now it's nothing else but photography made complicated. 

And two weeks later he wrote: 

The only problem that matters for me in color photography is 
to go beyond nature. It starts to dawn on me that there is no 
such thing as natural color in photography because the chemical 
reactions and the mixture of artificial and natural light sources 
will always distort reality. What has to be tried is to find a 
photographic color process that permits controlled abstract 
color-couabmations and their inexpensive correct reproduction 

Wlien I visited him in April he was beginning to see 
liial worfcfeg with color specialists wouldn't teach him anything 
except dtiH. He dictated an article for an Austrian magazine: 

AM tfaese experts aim at the closest possible imitation of 
aatoral @o$j: y aad they know they always fall short of their 


goal. They're delighted if thc\ can picture an apple looking 
red instead of brown and the surface of a lake blue instead 
of green. That's all right fur scientific recording and reportage. 
But it has done great harm to photograph) as a creative 
process employing techniques unique to its concept. The 
language of gradation we've finall) mastered in black anJ 
white is totally invalidated U eVe hack where realistic painter 
started in the Renaissancethe imitation of nature with in- 
adequate means. 

Our hotel room in Amsterdam changed into a labora- 
tory. Strips of colored paper were tacked to the \vall and strewn 
over the bedspread were samples of colored gelatine, cellophane. 
glass, and plastics I remember two nights when we slept on the 
floor because the arrangement on the bed couldn't be disturbed. 
With a battery of lights and borrowed cameras the same colors 
were photographed according to the Finla\ color process, in 
Agfa color, Dufay color, and other sv stems I have forgotten. Then 
he went back to the laborator) of the printing firm, comparing 
the results. The color reproductions in his book Vision in Motion 
show some of the experiments. 

One night Mohoh remembered Goethe's Farbenlehre 
which he had read as a student, and in which Goethe tries to 
disprove Newton's color theory. Next day I scoured Amsterdam 
for a copy of Goethe's works, and for prisms of assorted sizes. 
Then, with different lights and different filters, we set out on a 
new round of experiments. The goal ^vas to record the purely 
"abstract" color bands, produced through light refraction in the 
prisms. But the prints were uniformly fiat, the finer gradations 
got lost, and the hues were never accurate 

His collaborators in the printing house didn't like 
Moholy's insistence on better color engraving and printing. They 
thought they had been doing fairly well so far, and they had no 
intention of revolutionizing the visual field. 

"It's not that there's too little use of color," Moholy 
complained. "There's too much. It is daubed on the paper without 
discrimination. Every child knows that there are cold and warm 
color combinations; but even in the best reproductions everything 
has to scream with crude effects. In this mechanical color orgy, 


the tense relationships between black-white and color are simply 

And in an article he wrote: 

People's characters are judged by their handwriting I'd know 
anyone by his relationship to color. In laymen as well as in 
artists it is the unfailing test for sensitivity and refinement. 

He made a few color photograms but the results were 
unsatisfactory. Chemicals added to the developing solution colored 
the surface of the photogram, but control of hue and value was 
impossible and in time the picture faded. Moholy wrote to me in 
the summer of 1934: 

I am convinced now that new aspects of color in photography 
have to come from kinetic experiments, from an interplay of 
color on film There the third-dimensionality, which after all is 
the essential nature of light, can be combined with color. The 
superimpositions and the interplay hav<~ to come from optical 
instead of chemical combinations. If I had money and a 

But he had neither. The Dutch printers had become 
tired of his persistence. They withdrew their permission for the 
experimental use of their color laboratories and insisted instead on 
an unreasonable amount of typographical work. In a letter on 
June 23, he wrote: 

I'm like a child who has to stay after school. You should see 
a day's work. Now I'm supposed to design lettering for 
Catholic tracts in addition to magazine pages and advertisings. 
Shall I leave go back to Berlin where I'm a prisoner, or to 
Switzerland and join the bankrupt revolutionaries at Ascona? 
England? America? 

The decision was made for him. In the summer of 
1934 Moholy received two commissions which put his life back 
00 its original course. The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam asked 
tx> organize a one-man show of his work, and the Dutch Rayon 
faked him to design an exhibition of their methods and 
materials for die Commercial Fair in Utrecht and the World's 
Fair in Brussels. 

The invitation of the Amsterdam museum had an 
efieet on Moholy. After the frustrating isolation in 

Fig. 37. K IV, 1922. Oil on canvas. 

Germany, the vicious attacks of press and government on abstract 
art, and his self-imposed inaction as a painter, this offer was like 
a rediscovery of forgotten standards. He made a trip to Berlin 
where all his work was still stored, and for days and nights lined 
up his paintings, collages, and water colors along the walls of 
our apartment to make a selection. For the first time I saw the 
creative sequence from 1916 to 1928, when he had stopped paint- 
ing. I was still too uninitiated to comprehend the step-by-step 
development from pigment to light and from two-dimensionality 
to kinetics, which I came to understand ten years later. Perhaps 
under the influence of the experiments in color photography in 
which I had participated, I saw in Moholy's approach an additive 
method, moving from the simple to the complex by amalgamating 
additional visual elements into a new entity. One form-element 
impressed itself upon me by its infinite variability. The segmented 
circle appeared in the majority of canvases. In "K IV, 1922" 
(Fig. 37) the forms were unintegrated, mere points of reference 
to state the visual fact of the picture pkne. By 1924, in the canvas 
"Planes and Segments" (Fig. 38), the segmented circles were 
already put into premeditated relationships. The rhomboid lines 
with their depth function define not only the picture pkne, but 
a spatial equilibrium attained through construction. Two years 
later, with "Z II, 1926" (Fig. 39), the segmented circle and the 
depth-defining line were amalgamated with color transparency 
and an inclusion of light as a new value. There is a first conscious 


Fig. 38. Planes and Seg- 
ments, 1924. Oil on canvas. 

use of reflection from the reinstated textural pigment in the 
pictures painted after 1925, 

The decisive factor in this first comprehensive show of 
Moholy's work in many years was his renewed contact with young 
people. It was one of the strangest features of the National Social- 
ist regime that it had eliminated youth from daily life. They had 
either been drafted into the many Nazi organizations, imprisoned, 
or expelled. It was not until Moholy stood before a lecture audi- 
ence in Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum that he knew what had 
been missing from his life since he had stopped teaching at the 
Baahaus. As he looked over his youthful listeners, who packed 
llbe room and stood along the walls, he put his prepared notes into 
feis pocket and spoke directly from his heart. It was a gesture more 
indicative of his return to the Bauhaus idea than any rational ex- 
planation. He defined the position of nonrepresentational art in 

from Impressionism to Surrealism, are efforts to over- 
e the traditional forms of pictorial presentation. They are 
fi of them fighting disciplines for a functional vision. 


expressive of the primal human reaction to color, tight, and 
form \V nether it is railed "atmospheric impact" a^ in Impre^ 
siomsm or 'reonentation in *patial innmtv" as in Suprenia 
Usm. it all is an attempt to liquidate traditional painting in 
which usual element and narrative are one. \&ith the advent 
of photograph) the need for a separation between visual ele- 
ment and narrative has finailv become clear Photography is 
recording, painting is fundamental vision. Many different men 
have jumped into the arena. They all landed at the same spot: 
they faced the fact that optical creation can onlv be achieved 

Fig, 39. Z II, 1926. Oil on 

by optical and not by literary means There will be no new 
isms. Nonobjective and representational are no longer hostile 
opposite*. They are self-sufficient entities. 

He spoke of the need to carry on the spirit of revolu- 
tion that had moved the men of 1920. 

We failed because we were not humble enough. We believed 
that all-or-nothing solutions would create a visual order expres- 


sive of a new world. You can learn from us that it is the 
infinitely slow adaptation of the masses to new socio-visual 
standards that guarantees educational progress. Don't be im- 
patient don't be cocky. There's no task too small and no 
project too big to make it a manifesto of incorruptible design- 
a label, a photograph, or a million-guilder housing project. 
And there's no one too pompous or too humble to be made an 
ally a big industrialist or the woman who washes your shirts. 
You take it for granted that it is your right to experiment with 
media and ideas unaccepted by the majority, and challenging 
to the prevailing esthetic and social views You are proud to 
have convictions and to express them Take a look across the 
border and you'll realize that free work is a priceless privilege 
and that it carries with it a tremendous obligation toward 
honesty and effort. 

The warmth of Moholy's released enthusiasm carried 
the crowd. Many of them followed us all night. We drove to the 
"Y" and sat in old sailor taverns. At daybreak we stood in the 
Oude Kirk. The rising sun was streaming through the stained- 
glass windows, four hundred years old. Moholy pointed to the 
heavy lines of the lead filling, separating the panes and providing 
a structural contrast to the color harmonies. 

"They knew," he said, "the old glass painters knew the 
balance of color, black, and light. They'd never have thought of 
one without the other. Look." 

He took the lighted cigarette from the hand of a 
young man. As the silvery smoke mixed with a multicolored beam 
from a high window the evasive lines and ornaments of the smoke 
were concretized by the added color. He bent down and it looked 
as if fee scooped the delicate color reflections from the stone floor. 

"If only one could- hold it " 

When we finally came back * to our hotel there was 
stil an unwearied group of students with us who wouldn't leave 

But after I had gone back to Berlin the exuberant joy 
in re&Gora-ed creativeness changed to a more sober analysis. 
He writer 

Been back to the Stedelijk Museum time and again, 
ai I kmw it now: my paintings are not yet ripe for mass 


exhibition. They can only hold their own under the tendered 
private care, under a patient observation \\hich will reveal 
their actual values and the future potentialities still in ferment. 
There are hardly any people yet who \vant to SH the tentative 
worth of this new language. They'll complain about monotony; 
they'll scorn the repetition of the same form and color problem 
in new combinations Nowadays vibual gratifications have to 
come fast like the response of a jukebox, or the click of an 
amateur camera. 

This is hitter because the real purpose of exhibiting my pictures 
is to make the spectator grow slowly as I grew in painting 
them. What a long way to go! Most people I watched m the 
exhibition looked like oxen. 

And still, I shall exhibit wherever an opportunity lb offered. 
I had inquiries from Basel and from Brno in Czechoslovakia. 
One day I'll be known as a painter instead of only as a 
photographer. This has to be prepared. The task now is to 
find a place to start painting again. 

The exhibit for the Dutch Rayon Manufacturers was 
a large project involving thousands of guilders. In January, 1935, 
we went to Utrecht both ill with a peculiar kind of swamp fever 
which is common among foreigners who go to live in Holland. 
The term "below sea level" had acquired a strange reality for us. 
The dense rain and heavy fogs fused with the endless marshes and 
canals into a submarine infinity. 

The Rayon Exhibit would be done without compro- 
mise, Moholy had decided; the manufacturers would either let 
him do it his own way or he would not do it at all. They agreed 
to give him free rein but it meant that we had to do almost the 
whole job ourselves. The Utrecht workmen would listen to 
Moholy 's instruction, take a look at the blueprints, and walk 
away. The only exception was a tiny Indbnesian halfbreed called 
Teng. From thousands of samples Moholy had chosen some seven 
hundred fabrics. A fourth of these Teng and I cut with pinking 
scissors into free forms. With library paste we glued them on 
matting board mounted on a curved plywood wall which extended 
across the whole exhibition hall. This multicolored pattern was 
interrupted by glass panes, with black-and-white lettering set into 
the plywood wall, giving a view of the exhibition space on the 

F ; g. 40. Exhibition for the 
Rayon Manufacturers, Utrecht, 
Holland, 1934. 

other side. Two falls, twelve feet high, showed umcolored rayon 
in finest gradations, not m the customary spectral arrangement, 
but graded from black to white on a basic tone of blue. We cut 
oversized figures from double plywood frames, and hung rayon 
fabric between the panels, and we arranged a "harp" of vertical 
and horizontal chromium rods carrying large spools of rayon 
thread in carefully chosen colors (Fig. 40). 

The exhibition was a success. The Dutch textile in- 
dustry had never attracted such international attention and grate- 
ful manufacturers gave us a banquet in Amsterdam's largest 
hotel, to which we went with misgivings. Feverish and tired to 
deatli, we didn't feel in a party mood. But we needn't have worried. 
Hie frivolous habit of table conversation is not shared by the 
DufccL From the hors d'oeuvres, consisting of kegs of oysters 
stationed on the floor beside the guests, to the dessert, depicting 
Moiraly's rayon cascades in sherbet and spun sugar, our sole con- 

cern was food. Like a ro\\ of huge red beacons, the face^ of the 
manufacturers floated aho\e the table in almost total silence. 

To re\vard oursehes for our labors we decided to go 
to Pans. I had been there before with m\ wealthv first husband, 
living in the Ritz and "seeing the sights" in the prescribed wa>. 
This visit was different. It was the onlv time I realh saw Paris. 

I have forgotten where we lived; it (ertainlv wasn't 
the Ritz. And I don't remember how long we sta\ed. AH minor 
impressions have been erased b\ the men we \isited BrancuM, 
Tihanyi, Vantongerloo, Arp, Mondrian. Thev were Paris to me. 

It was March and bitterly cold. There was no MIOW, 
but an icy rain seeped through clothes and shoes and into the 
studios, scantily heated by small iron sto\es. After the bourgeois 
comfort of the Dutch houses, the frugality of the Left Bank was 
a humbling experience. 

"I won't introduce you to Braneusi,"' said Mohol) as 
we went down a flight of dark steps. * 4 He wouldn't understand, 
and he isn't interested in people's names." 

We entered a long, low room with bare stone walls 
and stone flooring. It seemed dark at first because the windows 
were small and high up near the ceiling. An old man turned from 
a stone hearth where he had poked a fire. He was covered with 
fine gray dust. It clung to the many wrinkles of his face and to 
his eyelashes, and it gave his smock a velvety texture. Only his 
white beard had a bright yellow fringe around the mouth. He 
smiled kindly but without curiosit) or recognition, touching the 
small cap on his skull with two fingers. There was no inquiry 
from his side, and no explanation from ours. To visit an artist in 
his studio was a perfectly normal event. Silently, as a logical 
consequence of our appearance, he went from sculpture stand to 
sculpture stand, winding mechanisms that ranged from a simple 
string-pulley to an intricate combination of cogwheels. All the 
great pieces were there, many of them in different variations: 
"The Bird," "The Fish," "Leda," 'The Penguins," and small 
models of "The Infinite Column." Marble, wood, stone, metal, 
plaster every piece was mounted on a carved stand which now 
started to turn, set in motion by Braneusi, When everything moved, 


he smiled. His vi\id brown eyes looked at his work with benevo- 
lent pleasure. 

"Voila" he said with a sweep of his expressive sculp- 
tor's hand, and with a small extra bow to me, he repeated: "Voila, 

I thought of a quotation from the catalogue of his 
New York exhibition in 1933: "Don't look for formulas mystic 
or obscure. I give you pure joy. Behold my works as that which 
you see. The closer they're seen, the closer they are to God." 

I told him of the deep sense of beauty his work had 
given me. 

"How could it be different?" he said in a simple 
French that still had the accent of his Rumanian origin. "After 
all- -there are your eyes. You can see. All seen reality is beautiful 
It's man's thoughts that break the universe." 

The end of his cigarette had set a spark to his beard. 
With a violent slap on his mouth he extinguished it, and I under- 
stood the reason for the yellow color-effect. 

"You will excuse me. I have to work." He bowed and 
returned to the hearth. One by one the rotating platforms stopped. 
The beauty of the forms was again still when we left. 

We stayed on in Paris till we could see Mondrian. 
He had been ill and Moholy decided to wait until he was up again. 
The wet cold had started to dampen my spirit. There hadn't been 
another experience comparable to the dedicated simplicity of 
Brancusi, We had visited Leger and Lipschitz, Arp, Delauney, 
Henri Laurens, and others. Some of the work we saw, and all of 
the rneii we met, were impressive through the passionate sincerity 
0f their inner search. But in the approaching war agony of 1935 
liie gdKiral accent was on convulsion a symbolic wrestling with 
forms and highly subjective meaning, reeling between 
fatuousness, and amorphous primitivism. The direct 
relation between social reality and creative vision had never been 
more forcefully. It was this visual premonition of 

cfeaos that gave our visit to Mondrian's studio its 

He was glad to see Moholy. His white face flushed 
and be had to take off his glasses and wipe them. Cautioning us 


to step carefully around a white sheet spread on the floor, he 
motioned us into an alcove where kitchen utensils, paints, brushes, 
and canvases \vere stacked in impeccable order. 

"I got a present >esterda\V* he said happih, "and 
you're just in time for the results." 

He pointed to a pressure cooker standing on a small 
table. "I alwajs wanted it so much I wanted to have a pressure 
cooker to make my own pot-au-feu" Carefully he unhinged the 
lid. A delicious smell of meat and greens filled the chilly air. 

"You must try it. It's the first potdge I have made in 
my gift." He ladled three portions into brown earthenware dishes. 
"I first got a small chicken/' he said methodical!}. "I told the 
woman at the market that I wanted it not too plump with meat, 
of course, but with only enough fat to make it agreeable. Then 
the celery. It had to be. . . ." 

It was an intricate recipe, which I enjoyed but which 
bored Moholy. As soon as he had finished his portion he turned 
to the paintings one tacked to the wall and one on an easel, half- 
finished. But Mondrian was not yet ready to talk art. Slowly he 
closed the pressure cooker again and stacked the dishes and 
spoons in a basin. Then he turned to Moholy: 

"Look here. I've been thinking " He knelt on the 
floor beside the white sheet we had avoided when we came in. 
There were several strips of black paper and a small piece of 
bright red. 

"If this bar " Mondrian pushed one black strip 
across the sheet, moving it fractions of an inch at a time. 

"Stop!" Moholy watched intently. "Go back again." 
The black returned to its initial position. 

"Now try upward." 

"No no no, not upward," Mondrian protested. "To 
the left. If at all, it's only to the left." Moholy knelt beside him. 
As Mondrian moved his strip to the left Moholy pushed another 
one to the right, slowly, slowly, almost imperceptibly slow. For 
a while they said nothing. 

"It's off balance," Mondrian finally exclaimed. "It's 
off balance. Don't you see?" 

"Yes, I see." Moholy was crestfallen. "Now I know." 


With s\vift moves he rearranged the black strips Then he jumped 
on a chair, looking at the sheet on the floor. "Come up here," he 
called to Mondrian who was still kneeling. "From up here the 
tension is harmonized." 

Mondrian looked for anothei chair. It was the one on 
\%hich I was sitting. I relinquished it and now they both stood 
above my head, pointing 

-To the left" 


"Higher but to the right." 

It was Moholy's task to execute the turns. 

"A r o/* nan non!" Mondrian's quick-fire objections, 
so typical in the French language. "Too much, I say, much too 


"Perhaps. See up here " 

"Not yet one moment there." 

The room was chilly and my feet were ice-cold. I 
would have liked to leave. I was tired of standing. But I couldn't 
make my prosaic presence known. The two men on chairs were 
like seers, regulating the harmony of the universe with strips of 
black paper. The chaos of the finite world had been left far 
behind. They were living a "future life more real, more pure; 
with needs more real, fulfilled more purely by the harmonious 
relations of plane, line, and color." 1 Optimistic, and serenely 
confident, they created a macrocosmic order of the absolute 
rectangle, endowed with magic powers more potent than the 
pentagram of old. 

After his visit to Paris, Moholy knew he would not go 
back to Holland. He had sensed in her artists and intellectuals a 
hopeless Jefeatism, and even his Dutch friends from Bauhaus and 
CIAH days had become close-mouthed and sad. 

TTiere were other free lands left Scandinavia, Switzer- 
land, America but in 1935 none seemed as promising to Moholy 
as England The British tradition of free thought gave his first 

*F*Hft a letter fey Piet Moadrian to Moholy-Nagy, dated November 

London >eais the exuberant e of a confirmed faith. MohoK loved 
Voltahe, who was the onh one of the < laical writers whom he 
had read s^steniaticall). \<w he reined the Lettres Philosophiques 
sur les Anglais as a part of reahtv. Tolerance toward convictions 
as well as toward eccentricity; the love of understatement and 
self-iron^ ; a plain seafaring Cerise of humor, the cool pride in 
being what one is insular and English- and, ahove all, British 
amateurism, constituted a perfect psychological coincidence After 
the years of enthusiastic apprenticeship, the heavy German pro- 
fessionalism had irritated Mohoh. Once sure of his means, he 
wanted to work with pleasure for the benefit of his soul and as a 
concomitant to the all-embracing function of living. The German 
tendency to forego a full life for the accumulation of maximum 
information or maximum skill in one specialized field was alien 
to his nature. In all his lectures, he had attacked the German 
specialist who had ghen his country much of her greatness and 
all of her present disaster. England was the country of the ama- 
teur it was his country. With delight he used to point out that 
almost all the leading English politicians had never had admin- 
istrative training Churchill, Chamberlain. Baldw in that the 
Governor of the Bank of England was no banker and the president 
of the largest railroad company no businessman. He saw d great- 
ness in this fact of which the English themselves were hardly 

When he came back from his tragic visit to the 01) mpic 
Games in 1936, we were guests at the headmaster's house in Eton. 
A group of young men gathered around Moholy when they heard 
he had just come back from the Games. What did he think of the 
English team? 

"Magnificent," Moholy said with enthusiasm. "Simply 
magnificent. They never won a medal." 

The young men gave him startled looks. Was he mak- 
ing fun of them? "Did you say magnificent?" The poor showing 
in 1936 was a sore spot on English college pride. 

"Of course! You lost, don't you see? You'll always 

"Pardon me, Sir!" A husky athlete moved a step 
closer with his teacup. "We have won the boat races in this and 


that time; we are the best cricket players in the world Our 
polo 1 ' 

"Of course," Moholy shrugged off so much achieve- 
ment. "But you do it for fun. The Germans, the Japanese, even the 
Americans, torture their teams half to death to make them com- 
petition-mad. Your boys went just as far as sport for leisure 
would take them." 

"We do more sport in college than all you Germans 
together," someone said, totally missing Moholy 's point. "Why 
should our team lose?" 

"Because you're amateurs," Moholy said, paying the 
greatest compliment he knew to his hosts. But the effect was nega- 
tive. No one talked to us again that day, and we were never asked 
back to the headmaster's house. We hadn't learned yet that the 
English delight in self-criticism is reserved for natives. 

Moholy spent two years in England, from May, 1935, 
to June, 1937. He had been like "a young eager dog" when he 
joined the Bauhaus faculty in 1922. Twelve years later he was 
like Prometheus, dedicated to his fellow men who "saw, yet did 
not see; heard, yet did not hear; ignorant of how to profit from 

With a Titan's prodigality he poured his strength into 
three professions: design and display, film and photography, 

The German textile publication for which he had 
worked in Berlin had moved to London. It was in their office on 
Tie Strand that Moholy started his British career, shocking 
priitos with his unorthodox ideas on type and layout and delight- 
ttg &e unspoiled English office help with candy and flowers which 
he never forgot to buy. 

The publicity agency handling the account of "Inter- 
national Teztifes" became interested in the new man and offered 
MoWy a Bending stream of projects. He accepted them all 
logetfeer wrth Gyorgy Kepes, who after a long illness had joined 
hm U^n - m 1935) he went on a sixteen . hour working rout . ne; 

fc days in the city and his evenings and nights in his 
in ir home in Hampstead Garden suburb. 

A fundamental difficulty arose from Moholy's prolific 

Fig. 41. Booklet for Imperial Air- 

wavs. London 193*1 

ways, London, 1935. 

imagination. He was used to offering half a dozen solutions to 
one problem, and would think up six more if the first ones were 
rejected. But the English are realists. If art had to invade industry 
and commerce, it was the task of the artist to find the right solu- 
tion. That's what he was being paid for not to bother serious 
men with a lot of doodlings. There had been trouble with the 
"Trubemzing" people who wanted one good poster for their 
preshrunk shirts, not a sequence that explored every visual aspect 
of a nonwilting collar. When the Abdullah Cigarette Company 
asked for a new package, Moholy and Kepes turned out four, 
which disgusted the manufacturer considerably. 

"I want to be served, not educated," he wrote to the 

But these were only the beginnings of work in England. 
By the end of 1935 Moholy had established contacts which ap- 
preciated his Continental prolificacy. Imperial Airways commis- 
sioned him to design a mobile exhibition which would tour the 
British Empire in a railroad car selling the idea of air travel. In 
addition he redesigned all their publicity material, from letter- 
heads to posters (Figs. 41, 42). He was not yet done with the 
Airways when London Transport asked him for posters, and 
Alexander Simpson offered him and Kepes permanent positions as 
art advisors for his men's store on Piccadilly. Tfiis store in 
a functional building was the most Continental adventure on which 
an old English firm had ever dared to embark. It was intended 
to do away with the Saville Row tradition by which men's suits 
were tailored according to a prescribed ritual. The century-old 


rule of no show windows or display cases for men's stores was to 
be liquidated, and high-quality clothes and accessories were to be 
sold in the Continental manner in large, light halls from stocks 
on displa>. The success of the venture depended on unimpeach- 
able taste, which would quell any objections to cheapness or vul- 
garity by the quality of presentation. After the two-dimensional 
fcork on lav outs and posters, and the purely structural organiza- 
tion for the Imperial Airways exhibit, Moholy was happy to work 


Saker Street 


Edgware Road 

Fig, 42. Three Posters: 1934-1935. 

again with actual materials. Here was his chance to translate his 
knowledge of light and color into reality, addressing not merely a 
select group of gallery-goers, but everyone (Fig. 43) . 

It seems that "grand openings" at all times and in all 
fielk are harassed by the un-met deadline, by work unfinished, 
gwfe not delivered, accidents not foreseen. The opening of 
"Siapscm's, Piccadilly" was no exception. I had grown used to the 
fact that Moholy was gone all day swallowed by London, un- 
iwkife because fee worked in many different places His return 
**f night was the only stable fact of our existence. But just before 

Fig. 43. Window Display lor Simpson's Piccadilly, 1936. 

the Simpson opening he didn't come home at all Telephone m- 
quines were useless; an army of workmen was mo\iiig through 
the six stories of the building, I was told b\ the operator. No one 
could be reached. I finally went to Piccadilly. It was earl) morn- 
ing a cold spring day with the characteristic London drizzle. 
The big show windows at Simpson's were still shuttered, but 
inside everything was ready almost everything. On a stepladder 
stood Moholy, shirt open, trousers crumpled, hanging fish netting 
over a wall in the sports section. Below him clustered reporters, 
looking up at his bare feet. 

"Asymmetric advertising is like a mild electric shock 
to the eye," I heard Moholy lecture as he dropped one side of 
the fish netting to the floor. "The impact has to come from the 
familiar object presented in an unfamiliar way." 

As I listened I saw that his toes were bleeding. 
Through a gray layer of plaster dust and fioorwax I could see the 
sores on his soles. I signaled him to come down. 


"The familiar object in an unfamiliar presentation," 
Moholy grinningly repeated. "Just look at my wife's face over 
there, and you know what I mean." 

We didn't find his shoes. He walked barefoot to a cab, 
and as we drove home, started a twenty-four-hour sleep. 

The problem of display, of a visual unit seen from 
the street in the different light effects of day, dusk, and electricity 
interested Moholy immensely. He didn't care what merchandise 
he was asked to display. It was the visual effectiveness that mat- 
tered. On one of the rare occasions on which he permitted himself 
an evening of entertainment we had had dinner in a Soho restau- 
rant and had seen a show. Our guests were a Swedish architect, 
his Russian girlfriend, and a young French painter. As we strolled 
through London Moholy decided to show them Simpson's. It was 
rather late and we planned only a quick look at the windows 
before going home. But when we got to the building Moholy 
noticed that the window dresser had not followed his instructions. 
In a display of leather goods neither the selection of colors nor 
the arrangement pleased him. 

"You wait here, just a few minutes," he said with his 
biggest smile. "Stand right in front. I'll need your help." 

He went in search of the night watchman, telling him 
that he had to get into the store to do some work. It took con- 
siderable time until the man had caught on to Moholy's highly 
personalized English. 

"No," he said, insisting that he needed permission 
from the store manager to let Moholy enter the building. A series 
of telephone calls followed until finally Mr. Simpson, who was 
fondly aware of Moholy's zeal, gave his permission. 

Standing outside in the dark we saw Moholy in his 
stocking feet appear in the window, his arms loaded with leather 
gcK>cIs and pieces of transparent plastic. He beamed at us, signal- 
ing witfe Ms hands that we should direct his arrangements by 
gesteres because the thick plate-glass windows were impenetrable 
to mm&* For half an hour we talked in "body English." The 
Russian showed her acrobatic skill by jumping high, 

few, throwing her arms in wide circles. The young 


Frenchman emplo)ed his national skill in gesticulation, and the 
Swede, unresigned to the impossibility of oral communication, 
shouted directions in booming German. A croud assembled, grow- 
ing steadily as time wore on and the four of us got more and more 
into the spirit of the thing. Suddenl) two policemen appeared, 
tapping the Swedish architect energetically on his shoulder. 

"What's this all about?" The S^ede understood no 
English least of all the Cockney dra\vl of a bobby; neither were 
the others capable of giving an intelligent explanation. They con- 
tinued to act like dancing Dervishes while I tried to explain. The 
police got angry: 

"You stop it and be fast about it. This is a public 
nuisance." I tried to inform Moholy of our dilemma but he was 
oblivious to the world outside. He only watched the acrobatic 
instructions, knocking angrily at the plate glass when our re- 
actions were not fast enough. Finall) I took one of the bobbies 
by his arm and, despite his angry resistance, pulled him so close 
to the window that even Moholy in his obsession had to recognize 
him. But he only smiled, happily acknowledging the interest of 
the authorities in the problems of display. It took another inter- 
view with the night watchman and the appearance of a London 
policeman in a Simpson store window to convince Moholy that his 
day's work was done. 

All his commercial design of that period reflected his 
predominant interest in contour, the flow of curved and crossed 
lines stressing the perimeter and the profile rather than the solid 
form. The Courtauld stand for the London Arts and Crafts Exhibi- 
tion which he designed together with Marcel Breuer, the Isokon 
pamphlets, the book wrappers for Crowther and Gropius, demon- 
strate this trend (Fig. 44). Looking one night over typography 
and posters done during the Bauhaus years, Moholy said: 

"I was much too heavy-hancled. The solid rectangular 
beams, the filled dots and black cubes are a mistake. They stress 
detail and distract the eye from the unity of the visual impression. 
A printed communication should be a whole. Neither violent 
color-contrasts nor heavy typographical detail can achieve that. 
It's the line continuity that creates a visual entity." 

Fitted into this tninmmial art \u*rk \vere large 
projects in photograph} and film. In lttentv-f<ur months he pro- 
duced three films: "Life of the Lobster/" serial efiVrt^ {or Alex- 
ander Korda's film on the H. (I, Well* theme of "Things to Come/* 
and "The ><ew ArthLecture in the London Zoo." He made hun- 
dreds of Leica shots for three photographic volume*: Eton Por- 
trait (Fig. 45 1. An Oiford I niversily Chest, and Street Market* 
of London (Fig. 46);- arid wrote the text for Telehor, 1 a four- 
language survey of his \vork. The Roval Photographic Society 
gave him a one-man show in their rooms on Russell Square, and 
he acted as member of the Advisor) Council of the International 
Photographic Exhibition in Xew York in 1937. 

This variety of expression was often criticised as an 
overextension of his abilities. But it was actual!) a coherent dem- 
onstration of Motion's integration principle. His "amateurism," 
trying out all potentialities of a given medium, was based on the 
ultimate goal of total design. He defined the mo^t heterogeneous 
tasks in similar basic terms. All through his life he was equally 
praised and blamed for his manjsidedness, which was as natural 
to him as breathing. He shuffled his different jobs like a deck of 
cards, getting innumerable new combinations but finding them 
all part of the same game. The problem posed b\ a Simpson 
window display was basically no different from a setting for 
Madame Butterfly. Both had to convey a message; they had to 
appeal to perception and emotion in the onlooker, just as do 
painting and sculpture. The message was different, but the sense 
apparatus to absorb it remained the same. Design was indivisible. 
Most men waste their potentialities because departmentalization 
has made them fractional and inflexible. It was Moholy's peculiar 
gift to find, in various fields, the common denominator with which 
to make his particular contribution. 

In the summer of 1935 we went to the Suseex coast 
to shoot the film 4 The Life of the Lobster." In working with the 
fishermen, listening to their native talk, watching their family 
and community life, Moholy created in himself a comprehensive 

2 Published by John Miles (London, 1936 and 1937 K 
z Telehor, International Revue (Brno, 1936). 


pattern of English folkways. From an infinite variety of manifesta- 
tions he abstracted, so to speak, some of the basic national char- 
acteristics. This knowledge helped him later to eliminate many 
obstacles in photographing the vendors who appeared in "The 
Street Markets of London" to win the confidence of the Zoo 
keepers for "The New Architecture in the London Zoo," and it 
brought the crew in Korda's Twickenham studio around to back- 
breaking nightwork for "Things to Come." The producer of the 
Lobster film, John Mathias, was a wealthy young Englishman who 
in the best amateur tradition had switched from polo to movies, 
Living with him and his eccentric family in a Sussex manor, 
Moholy absorbed another pattern that of British society. Things 
which irritated me the feudal relationship between master and 

Fig, 45. From: "Eton Por- 
trait/' 1936. 

die cknnishness of the men, the coldness of the women, 
tn<J &e drifed, unnatural politeness of the children were for 
hw dbjeet lessons to which he devoted himself with uncritical 
He hacfo't come to England to judge the English. He 
oowc to faaonstrate a new vision, and he was grateful for 
nded him toward a right psychological approach, 
with which he could identify himself with his work 
for &e lack of time at his disposal. He was what he 
d fcoperturbably turning from task to task with 


Fig. 46. From: 'The Street Markets of 
London/' 1936. 

equal concentration. But in addition he knew the secret of how to 
find helpers. With an almost hypnotic talent he could convince 
people that to work with him was the greatest chance of their 
lifetime. As the scope of his work grew steadily, and drove him 
to greater and greater intensity, he occasional!) overstepped the 
psychological limits. Permanent collaborators became immune to 
hypnosis, muttering "exploitation" under their exhausted breaths. 
But with a shrewd insight into the mechanics of creative work 
Moholy was more interested in the helpmates and handvmen who 
would execute the all-important detail. They were wooed with all 
the charm and generosity of a man who has ideas but no time. 
None of the janitors, secretaries, carpenters, mechanics, ever 
revolted. In the light of Moholy's demonstrative gratitude they 
gave their best. 

The men who wrote the text for his photobooks 
Bernard Fergusson for Eton Portrait and John Bet j email for 
Oxford University Chest dominated our life while the pictures 
were taken. Not that they themselves took the initiative. Their 
comments, the extent to which Moholy had decided to see England 
through their eyes, guaranteed the success of the books. Fergus- 
son's boyish delight in Eton school life infected Moholy with 
enthusiasm for "Wall Games," "Fives," and "Blackberry Mess." 
And for the sake of Oxford University Chest he enjoyed Betjeman's 
whimsical mind which insisted that his house guests learn to sing 
Irish hymns and applaud the antics of a moth-eaten teddybear 
called Archibald. Betjeman in turn was delighted when at a Don's 



IB ; of the future from the H. G. Wells-A. Korda 
to Come," 1936. 

Dinner at Balliol MohoK paid his res{M'<N to the hoM, an extreme!) 
dignified vestige of medieval college tradition, hv Caving: 

'"Sir, I thank vou for vour hostility." 

Alexander Korda, ^ho had a financial interest in the 
Lobster film, saw Moholy's i4 Light-pla> Black-^hite-Grav* 1 in 
1935, and commissioned him to do the special effects for the 
H. G. Wells film "The Shape of Things to Come." Moholy accepted 
the task mainh because it offered an almost unlimited chance 
for experimentation with new plastic materials, and he was fasci- 
nated by the idea of constructing scale models which through a 
skillful use of camera angle and lighting \\ould create the illusion 
of superhuman dimensions. These models had to lw* tried out 
with quietness and leisure but in daytime his work got only 
hurried attention. Men and equipment were needed to shoot the 
actual plav. Moholy decided to work at night, and for weeks his 
only rest \\ere a few hours on a couch in a dressing room after 
his helpers had left at da\vn. 

The fantastic technology of the Utopian city of the 
future would, so Moholv dreamed, eliminate solid form, Houses 
were no longer obstacles to, but receptacles of, man's natural 
life force, light. There were no walls, but skeletons of steel, 
screened with glass and plastic sheets. The accent was on perfora- 
tion and contour, an indication of a new reality rather than 
reality itself (Fig. 47). In its final version the film never lived up 
to the talent of its originators. The special effects were cut, and the 
character of the new metropolis, grown from the ashes of the old 
world, was indicated by the Wagnerian gowns of its inhabitants, 
and the chromium splendor of a Horn and Hardart Automat. 

Often Moholy *s day lasted twenty hours, divided be- 
tween the film studio, commercial art work, advisory meetings for 
exhibitions and publications, and lectures in and out of London. 
When his second daughter, Claudia, was born in March, 1936, he 
had hardly time for a glance. As an infant she did not get the 
attention her older sister had aroused, but years later her father 
discovered in her an almost exact image of himself. 

Late in 1935 Moholy brought home a large sheet of 
Rhodoid, a plastic of vitreous transparency. On it he painted his 


Fig. 48. Rho. Transparent 
51, 1936. First space modula- 
tor. Plastic sheet on plywood 

first "light modulator." It was the sketch for a canvas, painted 
the year before. After he had mounted the transparent sheet on a 
white plywood background, he compared the two-dimension effect 
of the canvas and the three-dimensional effect of the light modu- 
lator (Fig. 48). In the following months he made numerous 
pencil and crayon sketches, all marked "Third Dimension" (Fig. 
48), He sketched in barber shops and subway trains, while he 
Iiadl luncheon or waited for an appointment. Every business letter 
had a sketch on its back, and his shirt cuffs and handkerchiefs 
were smeared with crayon, hastily wiped off his ringers before 
going into a conference or shooting a picture. 

By the end of June, 1936, the first phase of his work 
ia England fead come to a close. "Life of the Lobster" and "Things 
t Come 1 * Were finished. Imperial Airways and London Transport 
W e0jfleted their projects and were not planning on new ones 
Wtre tl ewl of die year. The illustrations for Eton Portrait and 
(fasf&rd UmxrsUy Chest were in the hands of the publishers, and 

Simpson's had granted a two-months' lea\e o! absence. \\e planned 
on a long vacation in Hungary, which I had never visited. Moholy 
looked tired, and his mood was tense and irritable. There was 
nothing more important than rest. 

After all plans had been made, hotel reservations 
confirmed in Budapest and at Lake Balaton, and train tickets 
bought, a picture agency called Mohol) for a conference, As he 
came back from the meeting, the exhaustion of the da) before had 
left his face. It looked bo\ish with a new enthusiasm, and I knew 
our vacation was over. 

U F11 do the 01)mpic Games in Berlin," he said. 'Til 
shoot a 16 mm. film and as many stills as I like. Thev want me 
to catch the spectator psjcholog), the phvsiognomic contrast be- 
tween an international crowd and the rabid German nationalists." 

I was unenthusiastic. "You need a vacation, not a new 
job. You're exhausted." 

"Exhausted? Ridiculous. Female exaggerations! Don't 
you see what a chance this is? I've learned so much about filming 
people in action. Now I can apply it. I never really noticed German 
faces the way I've learned to see the English. And there'll be the 
continuum of the competitions, the constant motion of the games 
against the aggregate of the passive spectators. It's a unique op- 
portunity. Of course I'll go." 

He sailed for Germany in the middle of July. Two 
weeks later he suddenly turned up at Lake Balaton in Hungary, 

Fig. 49. Third Dimension. 
Sketch with pencil notations, 


long before I had expected him. As we floated at night on the 
\\ater in one of the flat-bottomed boats, or climbed the wooded 
slopes to drink Badaconyi wine in the court of an old castle, he 
told me why he had dropped his assignment. The moral climate 
of a country under dictatorship had paralyzed him. Among his 
friends who had decided to remain in Germany in spite of their 
known opposition to the Hitler regime was a doctor. He was a 
pioneer of medical reform and had been a leader among the young 
rebels who had practiced a new biological faith, based upon 
vegetarianism, physical culture, and mental discipline. Moholy 
had looked forward to meeting him again a silent hero who 
fought against overwhelming odds. But the revolutionary of old 
was a professor at the Nazi-dominated university now, and well 
equipped with verbiage to justify his position. 

"We have to undermine the enemy from within," he 
had explained. "Good men working for a bad cause will eventually 
ennoble this cause. Believe me, I'll use every one of these new 
leaders for our own positive ends." 

"I never felt so mute and so helpless," Moholy said. 
"I knew he was wrong, and that he was selling out. But who was 
I to tell him to accept either the physical suffering of a concentra- 
tion camp or the moral anguish of emigration? Everyone I talked 
to in Berlin wa? suddenly two persons. They had all split into an 
ethical and a political self, I could not accept one and reject the 

There had been another incident on the first day of 
the Olympic Games. As he entered the Stadium, Moholy had been 
greeted warmly by an officer in the hated SS uniform. He was a 
former Bauhaus student who admitted to being a political com- 

"Don't worry about my convictions," he had whispered 
lo Mofeoly. "Pm playing their game, getting myself into higher 
and h%lier positions. One day, at the right moment, I'll show my 
true faee and take up where we left off in Dessau. But it takes 
and patience. Nothing can be achieved with stubborn- 

I asked Moholy: "And what about your pictures? Did 

you see them?" When I had moved our possessions from Berlin 
a }ear before, the van hadn't been big enough fur the furniture 
and all the paintings. There had been no second truck available. 
Too many people were leaving Germany in a burn. I had no 
choice other than leaving with a former housekeeper about thirt) 
canvases and metal constructions. Thev were Moholj's earliest 
work, representing the transition from representational to abstract 

"There's nothing to look at anj more,*' he said slowly. "1 
went to see Frau Schwelker. Remember how she loved vou, how she 
cried her eyes out when we told her we were leaving German}? 
Well, she doesn't cry anv longer. "Those pictures/ she sneered at 
me, 'die hamper lange schon kleenjemacht." TWe made kindling 
wood of them long ago.') When I protested that she had had no 
right to destroy my property, her grocer-husband threatened to tall 
the police and have me arrested for 4 Kutturbohchetti$mu$.* This 
all happened in the first two days 1 was in Berlin. On the third 
morning I called London and told them I wouldn't take a single 
shot of the Olympic Games. Ill never go back to Germany." 

The loveliness of the Hungarian landscape and our 
visit to Budapest eased the Berlin nightmare. But it remained a 
smarting sore spot which was not to be touched. We rarely talked 
about Germany again. 

The short span without work, without projects, and 
without haste, provided complete relaxation. It was the last real 
vacation Moholy was ever to have. After two weeks at Lake Balaton 
we went to Budapest to fulfill a dream of his >oung days. As a 
student in the penurious days after the First World War, he had 
envied the visiting Americans. For once he wanted to live like 
them, swim in the luxurious pool of mineral water In the Hotel 
St. Gellert, dance on the terrace, take rides in illuminated gondoks 
to the St. Marguerit Island in the Danube, and watch from the 
grandstand when the St. Stephen's Day Parade marched down the 
hills of Buda. We spoke only English, and Moholy beamed with 
happiness when the waiters took us for Americans, It was the only 
tragic note of this trip that time had destroyed the inner unity 
with his mother, ^fcfes Anyam," who had moved the boy to such 


tenderness and longing, had become an old woman, bitterly lonely, 
and stubbornly orthodox in her beliefs. Moholy had no patience 
to reawaken in her the charm and poesy he had once loved. While 
I wandered along the old streets and climbed the lovely hills, he 
spent dutiful hours with her, but our departure was in the end 
almost a flight. 

The relationship to his older brother had never been 
close, because they hadn't spent their childhood together Now 
that they met as men, they had a cool respect for each other's 
achievements, tinged with the slight ironic edge of the artist for 
the material worries of the businessman, and of the realist for 
the Utopian hopes of the professional dreamer. 

His old friends and co-fighters were hard to find, but 
we managed to trace some of them in the city and in distant 
country retreats. They were the last representatives of the great 
days of the Hungarian Revolution. Their ranks had been deci- 
mated by exile, imprisonment, and death. The survivors were 
muted by the Horthy dictatorship, frustrated by the limitations of 
their unpopular language and the smallness of their audience 
Moholy felt alien among them. Their common bonds were broken. 
They were all defeated men. But they still had the charm and the 
unique chivalry of the Magyars of old. It seemed as if there were 
no country on earth where a woman could be made more conscious 
of her femininity. All contact with men was courtship, fascinat- 
ingly balanced on the precarious line between deference and 

When we went back to England neither the volume 
of Moholy's work nor the complexity of tasks had diminished. 
The commissions from Simpson and London Transport continued; 
tfee 5&-<?el Markets of London were photographed ; and the Museum 
<rf Mbfen Art, in collaboration with the Architectural Department 
of Harvard, commissioned a film on "The New Architecture in The 
London ZCK>, W a record of the extraordinary new buildings done 
by tbe Tecton architects. A new crop of commercial and typo- 
work had to be sown, tended, and harvested. But the 
fed sbiftedL Perhaps it was in consequence of the Con 


tinentai experience- of the German betrayal and the Hungarian 
petrification that painting became the permanent center of 
Moholy's existence. It was a shift in accent riot in time. The 
multitude of tasks went on, but for the remaining ten \ear^ of hi;* 
life the importance of anything he did was onl> relative to the 
supremacy of painting. It added irameasurabU and finalh fatall) 
to the overstrain, but it gave him the maturity of final co-ordina- 
tion he had lacked. From the autumn of 1936 onward Moholy 
never interrupted his painting again. He worked nights if the 
day didn't provide at least one free hour; he painted Sunda>s 
and holidays and during those brief summer interludes which 
other people can call vacation. For ten \ears he probed one prob- 
lem, varied one theme, he thought, felt, saw, and painted three- 

And he talked it. For the first time since the Bauhaus 
days he found men and women with whom to discuss his work. 
The unique English capacity for friendship, an objective unemo- 
tional association which warmed and stimulated without obligation 
seemed particularly strong among London artists and intellectuals. 
The young architects of the MARS 4 group supplied many new 
ideas. There was the Axis circle around Mjfanwy Evans and John 
Piper whose courageous publications, Circle and The Painter's 
Object, maintained a level that had long been abandoned on the 
Continent. "Peter" Norton, vivacious owner of the London Gallery, 
organized Moholy 's first English one-man show, which had a 
startling and gratifying response. A throng of hundreds jammed 
the opening and the large newspapers wrote detailed comments 
(Fig. 50). By and by a close circle developed Herbert Read, 
Henry Moore, Jack Pritchard, Jim Crowther, Julian Huxley, 
Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson. Ben's paintings and reliefs 
posed a visual problem related to Moholy 's space modulation. 
Their three-dimensionality rested on the finest shadlow effects, 
produced by advancing and receding planes. Barbara Hepworth 
had just broken away from Henry Moore's great example. Her 
sculptures sought a new organization of space displacement and 
multiple volume which Moholy had tried to solve in his early 

4 Modem Architectural Research, the English branch of Congres Inter- 
nati&naux d? Architecture M&deme. 


Fig. 50. 

-Nagy in the London Gallery, 1937, 

Constructivist sculptures." 1 In their studio on Hawpsiead's old Mall 
one could sit and talk \\hile the demonstration material uas right 
at hand. The simple unpretentious dedif ation of lien and Barbara 
to their work and their children as one inseparable unit ^as, I 
often felt, a creative experience comparable to Bran< usfs pure 
craftsmanship and philosophy Herbert Read had just published 
Art and Industry, the first attempt in the English language to 
establish standards of collaboration between designer and pro- 
ducer. There \vas much on which he and Muhoh disagreed, 
conditioned mainl) b\ a polariU of temperament and historical 
orientation. But Read's genuine coin id ions on the educational 
importance of art, his willingness to listen and to absorb, and his 
brilliant abilit) to find the precise formulation for the half-coherent 
stammerings of the unliterarv mind, created a lasting friendship. 
There was Julian Huxle), \\hose vision and persistence had made 
the new architecture in the London Zoo a realit\. Mohoh lo\ed 
his keen sense of humor, his independent e from acclaim and rep- 
utation, which underbid even the usual British modicum, and his 
inexhaustible enthusiasm for new people with new ideas. And we 
all benefited from contact \vith Jack Pritehard, manufacturer of 
Marcel Breuer's plywood furniture and generous host to many a 
Continental refugee in his ever-open La\\n Road Flats. When %e 
went to America it was the irreplaceable loss of this companion- 
ship that hurt most. 

But as the importance of commercial work and of 
film and photo experiment faded before the urgency of painting, 
the teacher in Moholy grew more and more restless, 

"Painting is not enough," he said as we watched a 
cricket game on Hampstead Heath. u Not even exhibitions are 
enough. The London Gallery show was fine. It was the first time 
I felt I had something distinctly original to offer. But it reaches 
so few and it reaches them in such a completed, rarefied form that 
the living problem gets obscured by the finish. There are very few 
people who can look at a picture and take its basic problem home 
to work on it. No money one makes in the industry and no 
satisfaction of shows and public recognition can equal teaching," 

Yet England offered no chance. Its educational system 

5 See The New Vision, p. 44. 


was untouched by the free-thinking tolerance of the London circle. 
By the spring of 1937 Moholy had become tired and melancholic, 
The Promethean drive had spent itself in an ocean of commer- 
cialism. The young men and women who should have been touched 
by its fire were out of his reach. 

postal interlude 

June 6, 1937 

Plan design school on Bauhaus lines to open in fall. Marshall 
Field offers family mansion Prairie Avenue. Stables* to he eon- 
verted into workshops. Doctor Gropius suggests >our name as 
director. Are you interested? 


CABLEGRAM TO L. MonoLY^AGit, PARIS June 8, 1937 

Forwarded Chicago cable today. Urge vou to decline. German 
example shows Fascist results when field marshals take over edu- 
cation. Stables and prairie sound just like it. Love. 



Marshall Field philanthropist and businessman, other sponsors 
A very, Gypsum, and Montgomery Ward; Kohler, Wisconsin; 
Paepcke, Container Corporation. Their backing assured. Can you 
come to Chicago for negotiations? 


May 29, 1937 

Professor Moholy-Nagy 
7 Farm Walk 
London, England 

We are opening in the Fall a School of Industrial 
Design, organized along the lines of the best Industrial Art Schools 
in Europe, with workshop practice. We have the backing of a 
large group of industrialists and have raised funds with which 
to carry through our plans. Marshall Field II has given us his 
family home to house the School and we are now about to remodel 


the house for classrooms and the garage and stables for workshops. 
There are ample grounds to add other buildings which we intend 
to do in the course of a three-year program These new buildings 
will he of modern design and eventually the house will be replaced 
b\ a modern structure. 

We are starting without any hampering traditions and 
we think v\e have a real opportunity in this great manufacturing 
district of the Middle West to establish a school of the type 
o needed in the United States. In Sheldon Cheney's book recently 
published "Art and the Machine," on page 269 in the third para- 
graph he speaks of our Association and our experience. We have 
tried to establish our school in connection with the Museum 
School but the effort was a failure, as you may know it would 
be; so we separated ourselves and now plan to start the school 
along practical and real lines. We have always subscribed to the 
plan of the Bauhaus and it was of great interest to us when Mr. 
Gropius suggested that you might be available. With our back- 
ground there is an opportunity to establish much the type of 
school you had at Dessau and I am wondering whether it would 
interest j ou to become the head of the school. We have a splendid 
man who would work with you ; he has made a study of Industrial 
Art Schools abroad and has been one of the guiding spirits in 
our efforts. We have also an industrial designer trained in Ham- 
burg who will be on the faculty. 

Your telegram that this is of interest to you and to 
send more information is the reason for this letter. You will no 
doubt receive a definite offer from us shortly. 
Yours very sincerely, 

[signed] NORMA K. STAHLE 

June 19, 1937 

Send necessary confirmations to American Consulate in London. 
: booked SS Manhattan July first. 





I might just as \\ell sit up and write to vou although it 
is well past midnight. Todav was m\ First meeting vuth the Amer- 
ican mentality. Until last night it \\as rough and I v\as seasick 
as usual Now that we're well pa^t Ireland, the *ia w <alm. To 
my surprise the dining room and the bar were decked out in 
red white and blue paper bunting this morning. There was a gala 
dinner at six o'clock. We all got thistles and noisernakers and 
horns, just as if we were small children. But the most extraor- 
dinary sight was bald men and hea\\ middle-aged women putting 
little paper hats on their skulls, singing and veiling into each 
other's faces. Fve never heard such an uproar. This i^ America's 
highest national holidav something like Bastille Dav in France 
but it seems to depend for success on a complete reversion to 

Do you know what the) eat for breakfast? Thev have 
at eight in the morning a huge stack of pancakes, artfulh decorated 
with numerous butter cones and a garland of small sausages. Thev 
pour sweet syrup over it, and when thevVe through the\ give the 
impression of being unable to get up. A Frenchman at m\ table 
couldn't stand the sight. He's now having his coffee and rolls 
on deck. 

July 5, 1937 

Today everyone is civilized again as if the wild merry- 
making of yesterday had never happened. There is a genuine 
friendliness about these people. Even their uninhibited curiosity 
seems to be without malice. But they shrink from no inquiry -no 
matter how personal. What a contrast to the English reticence. If 
this is a national characteristic, Americans will make wonderful 
students. They'll never be afraid to ask questions. 

July 8, 1937 


This then is New York, and Fve come all the way from 
a farm in Hungary to see it. How I remember the long winter eve- 
nings when Gusti Bacsi explained to me the pictures of Manhattan 
in Over Land and Sea. It seemed to me then that the skyscrapers of 


New York were the destination of my life. Now they're just a 
station on a long way but what a station, Sibyl, what a station! 

I know America is a democracy, but this system has 
not )et been extended to the landing procedure. I waited nine 
hours while the first-class passengers and the American citizens 
were cleared. Then the officials went out for a two-hour dinner. 
Someone said: "If we don't get through today, we'll have to spend 
another night on board." I didn't like the idea So I looked over the 
men with the rubber-stamps when they came back They're Amer- 
icans, I said to myself, they're neither English nor German. They 
must he human. There must be an affinity between them and the 
Austrian officials of my childhood. They too could accept a bribe 
with the innocent smile of a child, and come back for more. So I 
took a five-dollar bill and I went to the assistant purser. 

"I'm a professor," I said as pompously as I could, "I'm 
expected by reporters." 

And, Darling, it worked. I was the first passenger from 
the tourist class who came down the gangplank. 

Sweeney [James Johnson S.] had waited faithfully. 
It was hot. We drove through streets that didn't look American 
at all. Two-story buildings, often clapboard, very often half- 
decayed. A slum worse than that around Victoria Station. But beau- 
tiful fire escapes. I made the car stop several times to look down 
narrow streets they call "alleys" to see the strange patterns made 
by fire escapes. This will make a fine film one day. 

Then there's a big new building called an apartment 
house surrounded by small slum houses. A doorman in the 
uniform of a general and a very black man in the lift (elevator). 
Up, up, up! Another very black woman in a hall but she smiles 
and takes my hat. Then Laura Sweeney charming and full of 
frimdfaes. A room that looks like the best very best Europe: 
wbite walk, matting, very little furniture a Picasso, a Miro, and 
& -Am, Sibyl, I step on a terrace so high I floated in the air. 
Jkm was tuifcelkvable. A river, called East River, with boats, 
steamers; a highway, an endless ribbon of cars, headlights make 
wwing $>atem as they drift on, on. An endless ribbon of swiftly 
changing l^au Sumet, the mere hint of a mountain against the 
dkr t vary far away and then a bluish mist over the buildings. 


That is what made it 50 fantastiV these building*, the 
sk> scrapers of i\e\v \orL Obelisks, menhirs megaliths even 
shape, historic arid prehistoric straighlh perpendicular, or ter- 
raced like a pyramid; in solid formations, 01 single- -pointing. 

There was no detail Night came and even the sharp* 
edged contours melted. A million lights perforated the huge 
masses switching, flickering a light-modulation dissolving the 
solid form. Airplanes and stars their lights of identical size 
static and dynamic as contrast. 

I got drunk from seeing, although there was cham- 
pagne served to celebrate m\ coming, together ttith an excellent 
meal: chicken, salad, on \vhite Berlin china. Later we ^ent to other 
places many people, bars, a Hungarian restaurant. But I wanted 
to be up there again on the terrace, see this incredible <<\mphom 
of shape and light. 



If I didn't have to uphold m> reputation as a valient 
male before you I'd say that m) heart sometimes sinks below the 
gray pavement of this strange town. I\e ne\er felt so alone. It 
all looks familiar but when you investigate it, it is a different 
culture it is no culture >et, just a million beginnings. 

The skyscraper illusion of my first night in New York 
has vanished. Here I see it from belov* with all the detail thrown 
into focus. Why are they so afraid of the engineer who was their 
greatest genius? They quickly cover his construction \vith the 
facades of Trianon, Chartres, a mosque or a Doric colonnade. I 
have been quartered beside the only fair example, an enormous 
tower called "Palmolive" not because it grows either, but because 
it was built by soap people. 

It never gels dark and it never gets quiet in Chicago. 
I live one block off the largest avenue and all night automobiles 
honk their horns happily and police cars with screaming sirens 
seem to be incessantly on the way alter some monstrous crime. 
Neon signs and shop windows remain lighted all night. It's a rich 
town that much is sure. 

There are wide streets near the lake, but also side 
streets with old dilapidated houses right around the comer. Gar- 


bage in cans and even in cardboard boxes is put before the houses. 
In hot weather and it is hot as Hades it smells. 

But what a lake, oh Darling, what a lake! Its color 
changes constantly, and it remains calm and moving at the same 
time. No limitation. An endless aspect to a very limited civilization. 

July 27, 1937 

. . . The same friendliness that I felt on the boat is 
even more evident now. I have been invited to many houses big 
industrialists who gave much money to the Association of Arts and 
Industries, professors who are interested in teaching if a school 
should be founded. They drink much, too much for my taste, but 
they eat well. And they bravely try out your first name, although 
you've never met them before. I never used my first name with 
men. It was reserved for the ladies of my existence Now how 
shall I help them out when they simply have to know my first 
name? I can't possibly have them call me Laci? 

But that isn't the problem, Darling, the problem lies 
somewhere else. It lies, to be honest, in my own bewilderment. 
The men who invited me are the future trustees of a new Bauhaus 
if it should come about; they called me here knowing what I 
stand for. They wouldn't have gone to all that trouble otherwise. 
But their homes, the style of their furniture, their architectural 
preferences, the pictures they hang orj their walls, show not the 
slightest influence of any modern taste. What am I to believe? Shall 
1 be an optimist and say: Everyone is a potential student; or shall 
I be a pessimist and say: Forgive them for they know not what 
tliey're doing? 

The President of the Association, who is a particularly 
pleasant person, took rne in his car through the northern suburbs 
f Chicago. There wasn't a decently designed building I saw, but 
Sie thought they were something to be proud of. K., a printer and 
book teigner, has a mania for medieval eclecticism. He gave me 
two Jb<db fee designed: imitations of Gothic prayer books. He 
tens* faow about Baohaus typography? Why would he join this 
vmtere? And P., who is the most charming of them all, has 

&I1 0rer his place, strange draperies, and imitation 


I am bewildered. Darling. !)< thrv know what thr>V 

H 8 1937 

. . . Monday is the big da\. Ill present to the Board 
of the Association of Arts and Industries a full four-tear program 
and a draft for my own contract. You ask whether I want to remain 
here? Yes, Darling, I want to remain in Amenra There's some- 
thing incomplete about this eit\ and its? people that fascinates 
me; it seems to urge one on to completion. Everything seems still 
possible. The paralyzing finaht) of the European disaster is far 
away. I love the air of newness, of expectation around me. Yes, 
I want to stay. 

August 13, 1937 

Signed five-year contract for Bauhaus. Opening October eighteenth. 
Liquidate everything. Details follow. 


August 16. 3937 

Congratulations. Drop name Bauhaus. Identification with Ger- 
many and past program unwise. Suggest American School of 
Design. Love. 


August 19, 1937 

Your opinion re school name wrong and uncalled for. Official 
name New Bauhaus. Inform London press. 




In Ma), 1929, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap 
had published in Chicago the last issue of their famous Little 
Review. 1 To summarize the ideas expressed for eight >ears in the 
foremost avant-garde magazine of America, the) had sent a ques- 
tionnaire to the artists and writers whose work had appeared in 
the review. It was one of those tvpical inquiries nai\e. indiscreet, 
and very clever. It attained its object he. The answers from such 
men as Sherwood Anderson, Jean C<H-teau, Hemingway Jojce, 
Lipschitz, Aldous Huxley, pro\ ided a comprehensiv e psv chological 
picture of the postwar mentality. Mohol) "s replies to the ten ques- 
tions were written at a time when he had just left the Bauhaus and 
had separated from his first wife. The depression was dawning, 
and he found himself faced with the necessity of making a new 
start in Berlin, which no longer considered the modern artist a 
pacemaker of social integration. What he answered to The Little 
Revieiv was like a seismographic chart of his reaction to pressure. 
It was still valid eight years later when he faced the Chicago 
mentality from which the questions had originated. 

Question 2: Why wouldn't you change places with any human 

Answer: I'm satisfied with my fate. Chicken remains 

chicken. Moreover, Frn happy to be as I am. 

What could I do if I were better than I am? My 

failings give me impetus in the figfet ; they sharpen 

niy effort. 

Question 3; What do you look forward to? 
Answer: That some time Fll be able to comprehend 

society, social relations, the relation of individuals 

to the mass, better than today. . . . 
Question 5: What has been the unhapfjiest moment of your 


1 The Little Review, Chicago, final number: Spring 1929. 


sound is not only loud it's beautiful. Wi trv a^din arid it 
makes you feel happ\, \oiir ahihu to make H>und beautiful 
liberates you stomach, heart, up here jie<tun j to headj, \u 
organize your ability to make sound, refirif it, find pattern, 
watch effect. And you're a speaker, a \\nter, an actor. Good? 
Good! And now color .--My little daughter wouldn't *alk. 
Why should she? We carry her anvlm^v But then she dis- 
covers red. Across a lawn are red toys she wants, and she 
walks because red forces her to take action Nm \ou who ran 
already walk, you find that color means a life beyond food 
drink, sleep. Pleasant, I know. I love to eat. But there's more. 
Everyone can buy it, without money, with oj>enness of eyes-, 
openness of feeling, readiness to learn }ou understand.' 
Everybody is talented. I told you so. 

He attacked "beaux-arts" education. 

It makes you feel low before you had a chance to fad. You 
aren't Michelangelo, not even Whistler. You can imitate them 
poorly and so can every other art student beside you. But if 
you extend the sensorial directness you had as a small child 
remember the red toys into creative work with materials and 
relationships, you feel for the first time that you are a supreme 

And he cleverly mixed compliment and plug : 

Your American custom of night school is splendid. We in 
Europe don't know this. We spend our nights differently we 
waste some; sometimes we have fun. But we don't learn. You 
use your time better. We shall give you a laboratory of form 
and movement, a place where all you've swallowed down in- 
side of you during office hours and in factories gets liberated 
by experience and co-ordination. When you have been with 
us, your hobby will be your real work. Space-creation and 
H color-creation can be taught like the alphabet. 

'The illiterate of the future," be amplified bis famous 
dictum, "would not only be the man ignorant of handling a 
camera, it also would be the man without a color and space con- 

To the industrialists and businessmen in tbe audience 
he presented a program of universal usefulness: 

We don't want to add to the art-proletariat that already exisls. 
We don't teach what is called "pure art," but we train what 


you might call the art engineer. It is a remodeling of art 
meaning we are undertaking. If our students become artiste 
this is their own job. We know that after they have learned 
to use materials, to understand space, to see color, they'll be 
better artists no matter how far removed they think they are 
from practical life. But to you the industrialists we offer 
our services for research. We shall work on your problems 
In our workshops we shall provide research possibilities for 
synthetic fibers, fashion, dying, printing on textiles, wallpaper 
design, mural painting, the use of varnishes, lacquers, sprays, 
and color combinations in decorating; we shall explore far 
you typography, layout, commercial and portrait photography, 
microphotography, motion pictures in color and black-and- 
white, commercial art in posters and packages We shall design 
stage display, window and shop display, exposition architec- 
ture, and all other architectural structures from a prefabricated 
bungalow to a factory; and we shall work with stone, glass, 
metal, wood, clay, and all plastics in the product design and 
the sculpture classes. 

The curriculum he outlined was in accordance with 
his statement that "in the future we can never speak about a single 
thing without relating it to the whole." The students of the New 
Bauhaus would get instruction in biotechnique and biology, 
chemistry and physics, mathematics and geometry. Psychology, 
philosophy, and sociology, would supplement painting, sculpture, 
architecture, photography, weaving, and all branches of product 

After he had signed his contract with the Association 
of Arts and Industries, Moholy joined some of his former col- 
leagues from the German Bauhaus on Cape Cod. He wanted, he 
said, criticism and advice on his new program. When the outline 
had been read, it was apparent that its scope was much too big 
for ti modest teaching staff available at a new school. Gropius 
voiced this unanimous criticism, analyzing point by point what 
Hofeoly planned to do, and separating the feasible from the in- 
feasible. Mofioly listened with intense interest, agreeing or object- 
Ing as die case might be. When Gropius had finished, he smiled 
with great relief : 

"Thank you so much, Pius. All you said has made 


Fig. 51. Moholy-Nagy, pre- 
paring his opening speech for 
The New Bauhaus, Chicago, 

everything so much clearer to me. Thank God, the program is 
already in print." 

When school opened in the remodeled Marshall Field 
mansion on October 18, 1937 (Figs. 51, 52 K thirty five students 
had sufficient confidence to expose themselves to this enormous 
vista. They came to understand that the program outlined for 
them was a vision, not yet a reality; that the actual school work 
was a step-by-step process toward the realization of a future goal. 
They became, and have remained, loyal supporters of an educa- 
tional concept which, in the words of one of them, "veered my 
life at a 180-dgree angle toward a future world that needs my 
personal contribution to come into king." Over the years a sub- 
stantial number came back to the Institute of Design as teachers, 
and many others remained in close contact with Mdholy while 
they organized similar programs at other schools, (Fig. 53). 

The press reacted with unqualified enthusiasm. Time, 
the New York Times, ail Chkago and Midwestern dailies, and 
art and architectural magazines here and in England, wrote hope- 
ful reports, stressing the inadequacy of existing art instruction 


Fig. 52. Sibyl Moholy-Nagy 
at the Opening of The New 
Bauhaus, Chicago, 1937. 

and urging support of the new approach. Many of the exercises 
done during the first year of The New Bauhaus are still standard 
illustration material today wherever the workshop method in art 
education is described. Hin Bredendieck, head of the workshops, 
extended the exercises of the Foundation Course, worked out hy 
Mofioly and Joseph Albers in the German Bauhaus, to new tools 
and materials. 3 In the supplementary instruction, Moholy made 
important adaptations to America and the education concept of 
a new era. The Foundation Course, which for the German Bauhaus 
frdbman had been confined to a survey of visual means, 
was adjusted to college standards. In addition to workshop prac- 
formed the core of the curriculum, such academic 
s physics, biology, and philosophy were taught, sup- 
in later semesters by sociology and mathematics. To 
teaefe finee courses Moholy had won a unique group of men. They 
wens faculty laembers of the University of Chicago, belonging to 
the "Unity of Science" movement. They joined The New Bauhaus 
8 Se Tke $ew Yiswn and Vision in Motion. 


because the\ sa\\ a common denominator in its program and 
their own effort to define .scientific terms a< cording to atual 
function rather than to traditional usage. The ukmiate end of 
their semantic approach was an equation of human thinking and 
acting, just as the Bauhaus aimed at an equation of function and 

In the school's first catalogue. Charity Morris, Pro- 
fessor of Philosophy and teacher of Intellectual Integration at 
The New Bauhaus, wrote: 

Science, and phikihoph) oriented around science, have much to 
contribute to a realistically conceived art education in the 
contemporary world ... We need des^peratelv a simplified and 
purified language in which to talk about art in the same simple 
and direct way in \vhich we talk about scientific terms. For 
the purpose of intellectual understanding art must be talked 
about in the language of scientific philosophy and not in the 
language of art. ... It is difficult to envisage the full possibili- 
ties of the systematic collaboration between artist and scientist 
to which the new [ Bauhaus J program points. 

Fig. 53. Seals of the Staat- 
liche Bauhaus, Weimar, and 
The New Bauhaus, Chicago. 

It was a fine Faculty roll but one name announced at 
the lecture in the Knickerbocker Hotel was missing. James John- 
son Sweeney, who had agreed to leach History of Art and a socio- 
cultural survey of related movements in literature and poetry, had 
withdrawn. This was a bitter blow to Mohoty, who already had 
to cope with the inability of Herbert Bayer and Jean Helioti to 
get entrance visas to the United States m time for tihe opening. 
As a young man Sweeney had worked in Chicago, dividing his 
time between a job in a mail-order house and the writing of art 
criticism for the Daily News. After one meeting with the Executive 
Committee of The New Bauhaus, he refused a contract The issue 
between him and Moholy was not one of convictions; they re- 


mained In agreement about all principles of education, the dif- 
ference was between one who believes and one who knows Th 
question Moholy had posed himself a few months earlier _ "Do 
they know what they're doing? " had been answered for Sweeney 
by his previous contact with the Chicago business world. He knew 
their faces. 

But the success of the first semester, the swiftly in- 
creasing number of students, the continuous interest of the press 
made Moholy fanatically optimistic. The level of his school would 
soon be high enough to attract the best names in modern art 
With the beginning of the second school year, Jean Helion would 
teach painting; Herbert Bayer, typography; and Xanti Sena- 
winsky, display. Negotiations were under way with Hans Arp and 
Piet Mondrian, and Sweeney wouldso Moholy hoped soon be 
replaced by Siegfried Giedion, whose lifelong dream of an inter- 
national institute for co-ordinated design research would be 
realized in Chicago as part of The New Bauhaus. The plans for 
such a cultural working center of integrated knowledge were for- 
mulated in great detail during the first year. Moholy approached 
several foundations and scientists whose response was favorable. 
A circular stated the objective: 

America has not yet built up an institution which strives for 
synthesis of all specialized knowledge. Since the Industrial 
Revolution we have been overrun with scientific discoveries 
and technical inventions without number; but we have lost 
access to their entirety because we have learned to concentrate 
on parts alone. 

There is an urgent necessity to create a collaboration between 
the different topics, to restore the basic unity of all human 
ex$*erieBe which could restore balance to our lives. The New 
Banhaus, American School of Design, tries to achieve such 

we design we must relate technical inventions and 
discoveries to our psychological and physiological 
a view to social implications which go far beyond 
ation or increased financial returns. The structure, 
durability and workability of materials must be 
d and their esthetic and technological meaning in- 
A hundred facts of life-work, recreation and 


leisure, group respon-e and personality growth miM [#> re- 
lated to our deigned environment, There is a^ \et no study 
which is contemporary in this deepest meaning of the term. 

A group of collaborators in a cultural working renter has to 
make the designers of man's physical environment conscious 
of the effect of their actions on the %hole of mankind. Scientist** 
who are responsible for plastic materials and new process, 
artists who influence man's emotions through color, tone, and 
word, craftsmen who have explored the nature of man's basic 
materials: wood, stone, and metal, and finally designers who 
shape the tools of everyday living, must be brought together 
each year for a certain period to exchange findings and remind 
each other of the human denominator. American technology 
will thus lose its materialistic aspect and will become a <*ervant 
instead of a menace. 

And >et, in spite of all this \isible success, there was 
almost physical in its growing densiu an air of dissatisfaction 
and tension in the school. Confidence between faculty and admin- 
istration was riddled by rumors, and the symptoms of insecurity 
and dissent grew. The friction had started almost at the beginning 
of the school year. On October 30, 1937, twelve da>s after the 
opening, Moholy saw the need for a letter to the Executive Com- 
mittee, stating 

. . . that it is impossible for me to run a school with good 
feeling when I have to be aware that unorientated members 
of the Board blame rne for arrangements which were carefully 
planned and executed with the full knowledge of the president. 
It would be better and to the benefit of our work in the school 
if you would be in closer touch with each other and if you 
would inform each other more about decisions and agreements. 
... I think it would be desirable for the future to think about 
clear arrangements which allow me to be really responsible 
as director of the school, having knowledge and control of all 
actions which concern The New Bauhaus. . . . When all 
decisions in economic matters are with you, do not try to 
blame me now for things which I have never been in charge of. 

The story which was prefaced by this letter is typical 
but unheeded, worth recounting for the benefit of future alliances 
between finance and education. 

A minor cause of Moholy's irritation was the businessmen who 


suddenly turned Maecenas. The big industrialists who formed the 
Board of Directors were glad to leave the functions of an executive 
committee to smaller people whose vanity was flattered by being 
sponsors to a cultural enterprise that had aroused international 
comment. They now offered an unending stream of criticism and 
naive advice to students, faculty, and maintenance personnel, 
founded on no more than the necromancy of the checkbook. But 
the basic misapprehension lay in the fact that the integration 
principle which worked so potently in the curriculum had been 
totally overlooked in the organization of the school. Moholy knew 
nothing about the American system of money-raising and endow- 
ment, solidly founded on man's propensity toward benevolence 
and tax evasion. It was no secret that the $110,000 on hand when 
Moholy signed a five-year contract with the Association would 
necessitate annual contributions of $90,000 He wrote in a letter 
on August 18, 1937: 

Do you know how much that is? That is 360,000 German 
Marks or 18,000 English Pounds. They are absolutely sure 
that they can raise this sum with their left hand, so to speak. 
The executive secretary whose job the fund-raising has been 
for the last twelve years gets ten per cent of all she collects. 
To make this percentage attractive she certainly has to be sure 
of herself. Money rarely impresses me, but the ease with which 
it seems available here is remarkable. 

These were the financial facts Moholy knew. When 
the enrollment for the second semester added twenty-five more 
students to the day school and twenty to the night classes it 
seemed beyond question that the goal of an annual addition of 
seventy new students could be reached. This was Moholy's re- 
sponsibility. Anything else, he had been told repeatedly, was none 
of his business. 

But the evidence of sedition grew louder from week 
to week. A meeting of four dissatisfied students had been attended 
fey die Executive Secretary of the sponsoring Association of Arts 
mA Wnsfcries^ who told a puzzled inquirer: 

. "We might have to close down for one semester to 
get rid of Moboly's contract." 

Long after everyone else knew about it, Moholy, with J f 


his protective la< k of interest in hearsav ami grafevine, Iwcdrne 
slowlv aware of a planned campaign to undermine hi 4 * prestige. 
True to his character, he fought off this knowledge a^ l*st he 
could. When one bewildered leather reported that a member <f 
the Executive Committee had accused Moholj of sending $134,- 
000 over the school budget, and darklv hinted at a financial col- 
lapse as a consequence, Moholv said: 

'This Executive Committee aetn like bad children 
who invent tall lies to show off with what looks like inside infor- 
mation. How could I spend even a dollar over the school budget 
when I've never signed a check? If there were am financial dif- 
ficulties, the Board would inform me first." 

But in the spring of 1938 it c ould no longer be con- 
cealed that the Association needed funds which had to come from 
other sources than the futile money-raising efforts of the Executive 
Secretary. Moholy's reaction was characteristic. He forgot hi** 
disappointment in not having been taken into the confidence of 
the Board, and he decided to raise the mone> himself, without 
the benefit of a ten per cent commission. With the blessing and the 
gratitude of the Board, and '"with the knowledge but without 
the approval" of the Executive Committee (as the court action 
later stated), he planned a car trip through the Middle West and 
the East. His mission was to interest big industrv in the Bauhaus 
idea. Moholy had almost no recommendations. All he could rely 
on for success were his personality alertness, enthusiasm, Hun- 
garian accent, and personal magnetism and the sincerity with 
which he could plead the cause of American youth once he stood 
face to face with the man he was after. 'The man he was after" 
is a cliche used advisedly because there are no other words to 
describe his man-hunt. From a Dun and Bradstreet directory he 
had selected nine companies in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, 
New York, and New Jersey. Of some he knew the name of the 
president, of many he didn't But he saw them all, and, with the 
exception of one milling company in Michigan, he was siever 
turned down completely. 

The summer of 1938 showed all the symptoms of an 
approaching depression. The stock market was low; unemploy- 
ment was rising, and more symptomatic than the actual facts- 


most businessmen fell into a psychological paralysis as they 
stared at the revived specter of 1930. It was an unpropitious 
moment to ask for donations, tax-exempt or otherwise. If Moholy 
wanted help it had to come from a collaboration offer rather than 
from a request for cash. As we went from State to State we mapped 
the strategy for the next interview. There was for instance East- 
man Kodak in Rochester, New York. For once we had decided to 
shun the hated cabin camps, which fitted our carefully planned 
budget, but whose closeness to highway traffic undermined all 
rest. Extravagantly we planned to spend the night before the 
Kodak offensive at a resort on Lake Erie, in an old mansion on 
a peninsula far removed from highways and traffic. But, when 
we had settled down, a caravan of omnibuses arrived, carrying all 
the Woolworth employees of Rochester who had chosen this spot 
to celebrate their summer outing. It wasn't the Fourth of July 
but the symptoms were similar, aggravated by an intoxicated 
couple who had locked themselves in the only available bathroom 
on our floor, unwilling to be disturbed until the door had been 
broken down. When we stopped next morning opposite the mam 
gate of the Eastman Kodak plant we hadn't slept an hour, and 
the day promised a good ninety-degree temperature. As Moholy 
vanished inside the factory grounds, he carried with him a small 
selection of photographic work done by him and the best of the 
students, several carbon copies of his article "Paths of the Un- 
leashed Color Camera," and a smile of infinite confidence in the 
farsightedness of American industry. I was to wait in the car until 
he'd either concede that his mission had failed, or send out word 
in which hotel to meet him. 

At seven in the evening, with the last of the workers 
learag the plant, Moholy reappeared, exhausted but happy. He 
was amazed and considerably annoyed by the fact that I had 
found my nine-hour vigil without food or drink distracting. As 
we dbwe out of town, because he had decided to have a swim 
before eating supper, he told me the steps which had taken him, 
faimr after liour, from the secretary of the public relations assistant 
to rite office of President Lovejoy. At five in the afternoon, Mr. 
I^wej<^ baJ caled in the Vice-President in Charge of Production 
aud ftGge&ear fief had planned the visit of an expert to Chicago 


lo investigate the possibilities fur a large-Male program of col- 
laborative research. In the meantime a substantial grant of photo- 
graphic materials would be given. 

""How did vou d<j it?" I asked again, as I had asked 
uncounted times before. 

"By not being discouraged." Mohoh said, with obvious 
reference to my own spirits, still depressed from waiting, "and 
by not forgetting that ni) work i* bigger than niv vanity." 1 After 
a long pause he added: 

"And b\ making people feel important when I a*4 
their help for an idea." 

"All right, I understand that this works on the execu- 
tive level. But there are so many little people one has to In-pass 
to get to places where ideas count/ 1 

"I don't b)-pass them, I infect them. On a high Ie\el, 
ideas are cheap. But in the monotonous existence of a secretar) 
or a foreman, they have glamour. The little people of America 
have a tremendous respect for ideas, especially when they don't 
fully understand them. You should have seen the face of the 
receptionist when I gave her a photogram as I left; she blushed 
as if it were a rose." 

When we returned to Chicago in August, Moholy had 
seen men like Kettering and Knudsen, Schwab and Stettinius, and 
he had started a friendship with Frederick Keppel, director of the 
Carnegie Foundation, which lasted until they died within a few 
months of each other. 

The trip had not yielded an> cash contributions, for 
which in fact Moholy had not asked. But substantial grants of 
working materials for the photographic, the metal, and the plastics 
workshops had been promised. Two companies intended to refer 
packaging and lettering problems to the school, and the Carnegie 
Foundation sent an investigator shortly after our return from the 

In his mail Moholy found a form letter, signed by the 
President of the Association of Arts and Industries, advising all 
faculty meml>ers of The New Bauhaus to look for other positions 
since the school would not reopen in fall. Moholy's first reaction 


was not despair at seeing his work wiped out but fury at the short- 
sightedness of the directors who had made this final decision 
without hearing his report on the new contacts he had opened up. 
In addition to the humiliating fact that he knew no more about 
the school policy than the janitor, he now appeared as an im- 
postor who had solicited support for an institution already bank- 
rupt. There wasn't a Board member available for comment or 
discussion. Not even the Executive Committee could be reached, 
Well-instructed secretaries informed Moholy that none of the 
directors would be back in town before Labor Day. The young 
faculty members of The New Bauhaus had no savings to fall back 
upon, and no chance to secure other positions so late in the 
summer. Since no salaries had been paid for two months, many 
of them were in acute embarrassment and we decided to share our 
resources. Much to the disgust of the uniformed elevator men, our 
apartment in Astor Street became a community enterprise for 
the common use of cooking gas, telephone facilities, canned food, 
and cigarettes. 

When finally the Executive Committee consented to 
a meeting, Moholy asked for an immediate appeal to the big-name 
industrialists who had figured so conspicuously in the Associa- 
tion's first cables, and who adorned the front page of the Bauhaus 
catalogue. But haltingly at first, and brutally in the end, the 
Executive Committee made it clear that these men had given their 
names in lieu of financial contributions; that a famous name 
could be bought with a promise of no further solicitations. A list 
of sponsoring names for a nonprofit organization, Moholy finally 
understood, is purely ornamental 

The teachers felt that more was at stake than their 
pay checks. In a last attempt to save the Bauhaus idea they issued 
a "Declaration of Loyalty of the Members of The New Bauhaus 
for L Mofeoly-Nagy": 

privilege it was to teach in The New Bauhaus during 
the irst year of its existence wish to express our sense of the 
Um irfiJcli education and the Chicago cultural community has 
TOlaiBed m the failure of The New Bauhaus to reopen this 
lam- Tfes first year has convincingly shown the promise of the 
*)**! m*r Ae leadership of L. Moholy-Nagy and we felt 

thai the future development of the school VM** *< ure. It earm- 
as a great surprise to hear late in Bummer that then- was r>en 
a question as to whether the ^ehool was to reopen. 

The very lateness of the derision worked great hardships upon 
students, upon the existing faculty, and upon those who had 
given up positions to become new members of thf* faculty. 
Whatever the circumstances, the fart remains that the Associa- 
tion of Arts and Industries has failed in its side of the venture, 
whether the failure la> in starting the srhoo] at all upon an 
inadequate financial and organizational ba*is or in being un- 
able to continue the school at the moment when a promising 
future seemed assured 

In its failure the Association of Arts and Industries ha^ placed 
difficultieb in the wa> of reah/jng a significant educational 
venture whose program is congenial to the best educational 
leadership and the deepest educational needs of this eountr>. 
It is to be hoped that this administrative failure will not be 
interpreted as a failure of The New Bauhaus itself, and that 
L. Moholy-Nagy and the Bauhaus idea, fitted as this idea is to 
play an important part in the liberation of American creativity 
in the arts, will receive from some other quarters the support 
necessary to insure its success. 


This declaration had no practical results, but it meant 
everything to Moholy's spirit With the confidence of his co-workers 
assured, he set out on a battle which would be hard to match for 
tenacity and conviction. Within a month after the closing notice 
had been issued by the Association, he had secured for himself a 
position as art advisor for the mail-order house of Spiegel in 
Chicago. His salary of $10,000 he offered to the Association for 
the continuation of The New Bauhaus, He also submitted a plan 
for the solicitation of contributions from the many friends and 


acquaintances he had made during his first year Their help, 
Moholy felt, could be secured if he were given a chance to follow 
the same tactics which had been so successful on his solicitation 
trip in the summer. 

The industrialists forming the Board wanted to accept 
Moholy's plan to save the school. They acknowledged gratefully 
Moholy's irreproachable motives, and his success as a teacher 
On August 30, 1938, the President of the Association wrote a 
letter to Walter Gropius in which he stated that economic con- 
ditions and not ideological failure had caused the closing of the 

... In October, 1937, we entered a very bad general business 
depression. We were forced to sell securities to operate the 
school, at 50% to 60% of their former value, and have been 
unable to secure additional funds from new sources or from 
sources that have subscribed liberally to the Association in 
the past. 

... I personally feel that if the school could be kept going on 
almost any basis for another year, our troubles would be over. 

. . . None of us relishes the idea of having our names connected 
with a school that is forced to close after one year of rather 
brilliant success due to the work of Moholy and his staff. 

But the Executive Committee refused to give Moholy 
a free hand in saving the school, arguing that a revision of the 
Association's by-laws was undesirable. A consistent effort of the 
Board members would have been necessary to overcome this 
resistance and to prevent a futile and ludicrous attempt to save 
the Committee's reputation by forcing a lawsuit. But no one was 
willing to invest time in a problem outside the scope of benevolent 
8fxita0rsl% While Alden Jewell, art critic of the New York Times, 
primed tie revealing letter of the Association's President in the 
issue of January 1, 1939, followed by a reply from 
jr s die Association filed an answer to his claim for salary 
with such a profusion of dark hints at immorality, fund 
plagiarism, and gossip, that the Chicago Times 
slated is a brief account: "The meat was rotten, says the bank- 

The final verdict *a.s f u ll\ in favor f Mohoh, award- 
ing him in place of mone\ a mortgage on the school building, 
and distributing among the teachers whatever equipment hadn't 
been removed bv other creditors. 

Fig. 54. Design for "Six-in- 

for Spiegel Inc., Chicago, 

But The New Bauhaus Has gone. Eighty students who 
had applied for enrollment for the second >ear had to be told 
that their hopes for a new art education were idle. While Moholy 
designed hardware {Fig. 54 j and revised the typography of a 
mail-order catalogue, he pondered the lesson. His moral obliga- 
tion toward the young people who had joined him during the first 
year became almost an obsession. The Bauhaus idea had to go on, 
and only a new school could prove that it had not failed. But even 
if it had been available, sponsorship by industry under the usual 
terms would never again tempt him; and the $3,000 left in his 
bank account seemed a ridiculous capital after a $100,000 had 
been lost within a year. The year 1938 ended on a note of defeat. 


In his reply to the questionnaire of The Little Review 
Moholy had written: "My failings give me impetus in the fight; 
they sharpen my efforts." Four months after the closing of The 
New Bauhaus he had analyzed his failure to the extent that he 
could draw constructive conclusions. 

OMAHA, NEB., Jan. 5, 1939 

I have five hours to wait for my next train. It is incredibly cold 
and dreary outside. I have heen wandering through the streets 
of this most typical of all so-called typical American cities, 
reminiscing ahout the last time I was here, a little more than 
a year ago. At that time S. tried to interest the Chamber of 
Commerce in making our school part of their university. How 
superfluous it seemed then to consider such an offer after one 
had realized The New Bauhaus. 

Fm not expecting a success from my talk with L. mainly 
because something in me doesn't want to leave Chicago. I have 
never been able to stand unfinished canvases, half-written 
books. You know yourself how you've kidded me about my 
eternal return to that certain canvasboard and the Silverit 
plate, no matter where you hide them. Chicago is not only an 
unfinished canvas. It is a smeared-over sketch which I have 
to clean up and set straight. Do you understand that? 

It's not only that I want to clear my name. Of course I do. 
Any man would after what has been spread around about me. 
I want to get my hands back at the problems of art education 
before Fve forgotten what I learned during the last year. 

Wifcen I started in Chicago, I took the whole finished complex 
l BauitaBS philosophy and derived from it applications and 
4etaHs of instruction. What I have to do in the future is to 
Aisle,. B0t in terms of a fixed program, but in terms of students, 
itt tite h&man proportions of this country and this period. I'd 
let tibm feavestigate each visual problem as it presents itself 
<H0f*iay, f$r instance, and the effect of light and color on trans- 

parent matt-rials, or positive-negative relationships in film and 
photogram From these experiments, done with their nwn hands, 
they would come to conclusions about the general vahdiH of 
our approach, its formative power. There should IK* more 

That is why Fm so doubtful about a job with an\ university. 
One day I'll hare to accept one to keep us going bt*caiise I know 
I cannot work for the industry without the compensation of 
teaching. But within a fixed curriculum, the result to which 
the student has to come is already determined. It's like cutting 
a wedge from a melon. It'll afwa>s ht exactly in the old place 

Fm going to catch an hour's sleep on a waiting-room bench 
before going on. I'm dog-tired, darling, but my head is very 
clear. Not much use for all this insight just now. The onl> 
consolation is that I can share it with you. 



This trip to negotiate a university appointment brought 
no result because Moholy's terms seemed unacceptable to the 
head of the Art Department. But he was unconcerned about the 
outcome. Like a student who has discharged a distasteful duty, he 
felt infinitely relieved that he had proved to himself that he had 
no chance with academic institutions. The conflict between the con- 
ventional obligation to look for economic security and his pent-up 
drive toward a realization of his pedagogical convictions had 
been resolved. His drawn face became open and smiling again 
and he painted with increased vigor after his day's work in the 
mail-order house was done. One morning late in January he 
called to me from the bathroom. He kept a memo pad beside the 
mirror because he claimed that his best ideas came while he was 
shaving. The memo pad was covered with figures and names. 

"We'll start our own school, if you're with me," he 
said pausing to watch my reaction. "We have $2,500 in the bank 
with which to start. My job at Spiegel's is good for another eight 
or nine months, and after that well be established. If we're careful, 
we should be able to make it/' 

I smiled. The detour was over. Moholy was on his 
way again. 

Twenty-four hours after the new school had been 


H. Barr, Jr., of the New York Museum of Modern Art, who, in 
sponsoring the Bauhaus Exhibition in 1938 1 had answered in- 
quiries as to why he considered the Bauhaus so important, with 
nine reasons: 

1. Because it courageously accepted the machine as an instru- 
ment worthy of the artist. 

2. Because it faced the problem of good design for mass 

3. Because it brought together on its faculty more artists of 
distinguished talent than has any other art school of our 

4. Because it bridged the gap between the artist and the in- 
dustrial system. 

5. Because it broke down the hierarchy which had divided the 
"fine" from the "applied" arts. 

6. Because it differentiated between what can be taught (tech- 
nique) and what cannot (creative invention). 

7. Because its building at Dessau was architecturally the most 
important structure of the 1920's 

8. Because after much trial and error it developed a new and 
modern kind of beauty. 

9. And, finally, because its influence has spread throughout the 
world, and is especially strong today in England and the 
United States. 

With sponsors and faculty secure, everything depended 
on finding a suitable building in which to house the School of De- 
sign. January of 1939 brought blizzards which heaped layer after 
layer of frozen snow and ice on Chicago's unswept streets. In our 
little Ford we scoured the Loop and the Near North Side of Chi- 
cago for empty space. It became routine to park with misgivings in 
a saow<irift before an empty building and for Moholy, Kepes, and 
Wolff to iiave to push the car away from the curb and often well 
dfown die street when the inspection was over. Finally a row of 
dark md Aty windows caught Wolff's attention, and, early in 
February, Moholy rented the second floor of 247 East Ontario 
Slpeet cm Chicago's Near North Side. It took an enthusiasm be- 
yotid tfce reach of discouragement or despair to see in this empty 
foft a future sebool of functional design A commissary which had 
oeeitpM die spac^ years before had gone into bankruptcy and left 
*Bnfctt 1919-1928, Tha Museum of Modem Art, 1938 


without cleaning up. The cockroaches had de\ eloped into a new 
species. They measured eahiK two inches m length and an inch 
in breadth and the) were touching!) tame. The window panes 
were broken, and, as we stood in what might one day become an 
office, the snow drifted in onto the stone floor. The building was 
in receivership and the rent cheap, but the redecorating was our 
own responsibility. With buckets, scrubbing brushes, and bottles 
of disinfectant, we started to clean up. Two former students of 
the New Bauhaus joined the mopping faculty, and with their help 
window panes were replaced, walls whitewashed, and doors and 
shelves installed. There wasn't much more equipment to start with 
than the benches and lecture chairs Kepes had received in lieu of 
his salary from the Association of Arts and Industries. Wolff 
contributed an old desk with which to start an office, and e\er) 
chair, table, and shelf that wasn't absolutely essential vanished 
from our apartment in Astor Street. Two huge iceboxes, which 
once had served the commissan, became darkrooms, protected 
by endless lengths of black satin which I sewed together, and 
stocked with Moholy's personal photographic equipment. The bak- 
ing ovens, connected with a gallery that ga\e the empt\ halls an 
unusual architectural articulation, were earmarked as storage space 
for plywood, metal, and plastics but for the time being they were 

It was almost ten o'clock on the night before the first 
registration day when the weary faculty and its assistants trudged 
down Ontario Street On the other side of Michigan Avenue was an 
inviting sign: KUNGSHOLM, Swedish Smorgasbord. Without giving 
it another thought we walked in and heaped our plates with salads 
and cold meats. 

Boldly Moholy ordered some wine, to drink to his crew. 
The next day, he mused, would decide the wisdom of our challenge. 
If, say, at least twelve students enrolled, our faith would be justi- 
fied and the backbreaking labor of this last month would be a 
bow to American youth. If not. . . . 

When the bill came we couldn't pay. Under the glare of 
the assembled waiters we pooled every penny in our possession, 
feeling foolishly and delightfully amused by our dilemma. It took 
Moholy's wristwatch as a pawn to release us. There was something 


almost symbolic in Moholy's emphatic assurance that he would 
bring the money the next day. As we parted we reassured each 
other that this had been our last day of trouble. Tomorrow would 
he a day of paying old debts. 

One week later, on Washington's Birthday, eighteen 
day students assembled in the main drafting room to start their 
first semester with the School of Design; they were followed dur- 
ing the week by twenty-eight night students. In the small strongbox 
which I had kept since my high school days, and which now rep- 
resented the school's safe, was $2,300. In an opening address, 
Moholy told the students: 

This is not a school but a laboratory in which not the fact but 
the process leading to the fact is considered important. We 
depend on everyone of you to give all you have to further this 
process. If you really give your best, the results will be extraor- 
dinary. I have found the best in every man to be pretty good. 
You as total human beings are the measure of our educational 
approach not you as future furniture designers, draftsmen, 
photographers or instructors. Your brains as well as your hands, 
your emotions and your health, all this is part of the process. 
Don't think that you can neglect one to perfect the other. It 
would destroy the totality of your performance. You depend on 
each other to shape and mold what lies dormant in you. If you 
succeed in organizing among each other a working community, 
your combined strength will surpass m its results any technical 
school with the finest equipment I believe in the creative su- 
premacy of the human mind. 

The curriculum differed from The New Bauhaus plan 
in more than the number of staff members and square feet of occu- 
pied space. 2 The ramifications of the first American program had 
been dropped. The emphasis was on fundamentals, not on complex- 
ity. TTie shopwork under Andi Schiltz and Eugene Bielawsky fol- 
Iowe4 basically the original Bauhaus line, confining itself to the 
materials of man's immediate daily environment: paper, wood, 
metal, their tensile strength, pliability, structure, and surface treat- 
ment Hie light and color workshop under the direction of Gyorgy 
Kepes had a clearer visual and intellectual structure than before. 
He related technique and the social impact of visual presentation 

21 For feaM descriptions of the work done at the School of Design see 
L, MoWy-Hagy, m&n w Motion (Chicago, 1947). 


to each other. A tonal score leading from tthite-grav -black grada- 
tions to chromatic scales color mixtures, and color textures, 
awakened the student to a comprehension of visual organisation. 

The unique effectiveness of the school"** program rested 
on the fact that by necessity and choice one man encompassed all 
that could be taught in one field. The atomizing specialization of 
college training was avoided. Kepes, for instance, would develop 
in his students a comprehension of all visual aspects from finger- 
paints and kodachrome shots to camouflaging a cit\ or designing 
a sophisticated fashion display. 

Robert Jay Wolff had as his field the problem of 
volume in all forms and materials His '"volume famih" became 
a basic principle of sculptural analysis. Inder his guidance 

. . . volume was transformed by a new contrapuntal rhythm, 
by the architecture of space and motion, by the total influence 
of environment. . . . We propel the motion of change. How 
does the object look, now, now, and now again v ^e don't 
care. We ask how is it changing?' 

The Architecture Class under the chairmanship of 
George Fred Keck moved from a space modulator in simple 
three-dimensional relationships to "an orthographic projection" 
of plan, elevation, section and perspective. Physical, psychological, 
and socio-economic factors were co-ordinated in a step-by-step 
development from the "primitive" dwelling of rural inhabitants 
to the complex requirements of a city settlement. j 

Marli Ehrmann's Weaving Workshop translated thj 
color and tactile experiences of the Foundation Course. It pro- 
duced textiles that answered practical and esthetic needs and 
would lend themselves to mass production in new synthetic fibers. 

Moholy's special delight was the Children's Class 
which met on Saturday mornings under the guidance of Gordon 
Webber. Boys and girls, ranging in age from four to twelve, 
visited the Aquarium, the fruit markets, the Zoo Fig. 55), or 
looked at the light pattern of the city at night. Then they recreated 
what they had seen in form and color. The "Locks of the Chicago 
River/' a "Deep-Sea Dream," a "Clock Ballet," inspired by a 
dismantled alarm clock, were created in one winter. Saturday 
3 R. J. Wolff, Curriculum for a Scit/pto/e Class (1941). 


Fig. 55. Announcement for 
Children's Class, School of De- 
sign, Chicago, 1939. 

morning should have been Moholy's time for rest ; but around ten 
o'clock he'd take his Leica or his 16 mm. film camera and appear 
among the youngsters. Those particularly active in their work 
would be asked to his office to see his latest painting and get some 
Rosemarie chocolate. He jotted down well-formulated reactions 
to abstract art, delighted by such definitions as: "Oh, it's speed, 
it's airplane speed." -"This picture isn't empty, it's painted air." 
"That's easy to see: it's a picture of tumbling." or his 
daughter's stern rebuff of an adult who had called the color print 
of a landscape a picture: "This is no picture, this is a story. A 
picture is what my Daddy does." 

Dtie to the architectural peculiarities of the school 
building, lectures had to be scheduled so that they wouldn't inter- 
fere with workshop instruction. While the students finished their 
e&Ior 01- form problems, they couldn't help listening to a dis- 
CBSSKMJ m Economics with Mayriard Krueger, or on Sociology 
witii Lkyd W. Warner. It was integration by necessity, drawing 
eadb student into the whole orbit of the school. 


Oiasionallv all instruction had to >-iop -drowned out 
by the beat of a hundred tapping feet on the* < filing. The practice 
room of the Chez Paree Mghl Club v\a^ on the floor above, supplv- 
ing variations of music from hot ja// to a \ ienne^ nah/. Exrens 
suds from the night dub's kitchen seeped dovin the dram pipes 
and formed pools and rivulets on our worn stone floor. But the 
most obvious nuisance v\as an all-pervading odor of grease arid 
frying meat which annoved the satisfied and tortured the hungrv. 

For four months I was secretary bookkeeper, regis- 
trar, and auxiliary janitor. Conscientious!) I entered monev re- 
ceived on the left side of a little black book, and monev spent on 
the right, feeling very efficient when at week's end the tash tallied 
with my summation of credit and debit. But when at the beginning 
of the first summer session office help could be hired, mv efforts 
were deemed totallv, inadequate. A bookkeeper, working a few 
hours each night for a fee w f hkh he invanablv donated to the 
school, tore his hair when I couldn't remember whether a certain 
sum had come under capital investment, discounts, general ex- 
penditure, or any of a dozen other headings. The pedantic mys- 
ticism of bookkeeping, I decided, would be forever bevond my 
comprehension . 

The S2000 w r e had invested in basic equipment, rent, 
and a minimum of publicity, was gone. The next step was to 
induce the businessmen of Chicago to donate machinery, materials, 
and services. We had no time to wait for "connections" to function, 
and for telephone calls of recommendation to pass from one 
manufacturer to another. Moholy selected from the classified tele- 
phone book firms who manufactured woodworking machinery, 
small tools, plywood, and engravings. Thai he set out to visit firm 
after firm. He still hadn't learned to drive, and I became very 
much at home in my car, writing with gloved hands a novel about 
Germany's political history while I waited. At the end of 1939 
Moholy had solicited basic equipment for the workshops, and 
printing services for a ricMy illustrated catalogue. 

Tie lesson learned from this experiment was simple 
and timely. The donation and endowment policy of higher educa- 
tion excluded the businessman of itiedium means from participa- 
tion. A firm with a carefully balanced minimum budget seeiued 



of Stodems of the School of Design, Chicago, 

rarely capable of contributing < ash to a benevolent rauM without 
having to go through a tedious process of realluiinent. (lifts 
in kind were more easilv granted for such plausible activities as 
research, experimentation, and promotion. The inherent American 
interest in technology and construction, and the common pride in 
educational institutions, could be utilized for material contribu- 
tions on a large scale. When MohoK died, the Institute boasted 
workshops which were suited to almost an> form of design re- 
search, and none of the equipment had been bought. 

The results produced during the first two \ears of the 
School of Design justified not only Mohol)'s exhausting efforts 
but also the contributions made by a dozen small and medium- 
sized firms. Margaret De Patta, now a leading jewelry designer, 
utilized Kepes' instruction in the behavior of light to develop a 
new method of setting stones and pearls into a magnifying matrix, 
providing brilliant visual effects. Wire-bending exercises were ap- 
plied by a student co-operative to the production of elastic wire- 
mesh cushions which, joined together, sened as shock absorbers. 
Orin Raphael gave the mobile and paper-cut structures their 
logical application in a new longehair, and Charles Niedringhaus 
and Jack Waldheirn developed a new line of plywood furniture. 
Within two years the students of the School of Design filed seven- 
teen applications for patents, and an uncounted number of small 
inventions were incorporated into the daily workshop production 
(Fig. 56). 

These were the external results of group co-operation. 
The more significant success showed in human relations. Richard 
Filipowski, who graduated in 1944, recounted in a letter how 
Moholy handled the frictions and complaints which cropped up 
among a group of high-strung individuals: 

Anyone could go into his office and air his grievances, no 
matter how late the hour or how tired the director. Everyone 
coming back from these conferences smiled, his spirits height- 
ened and his energies renewed. "Well, what did he say?" we 
would inquire. "What's his opinion on the case?" 

And the complainer would suddenly realize that he hadn't 
had a chance to speak about his troubles. Moholy had asked 
him about his health, his family, his living conditions; he had 

shown his latest picture or photogram. He often asked the 
visitor's advice on a sentence or an expression in a manuscript 
or he read a paragraph from his book in progress. Gradually 
he'd start to discuss the school aims, and the student although 
he received no answer to his query went away with the con- 
viction that Moholy had known his complaint beforehand 
and had chosen this roundabout way to supply an answer. 

At the bottom of the infinite faith we had in Moholy was the 
fact that he never criticized the work of a student in terms of 
good or bad. Even the poorest work had a fragment of merit 
which Moholy emphasized could be developed with imagina- 
tion and industry. Nothing was all bad; each idea contained 
a spark of quality. 

This could have been termed simply as a teaching technique 
But it really was much more. It was an expression of Moholy's 
deep-rooted optimism, based on his faith in the validity of the 
human mmd, and on his inexhaustible joy of constant dis 

The School of Design won many prizes in national 
competitions for textiles, posters, and ideas for display. Decora- 
tions for Chicago's Architects' Ball in 1941 were furnished as a 
group project, a woman's apparel store was designed, and a special 
light display for a hotel bar was invented. Each winter brought a 
Fancy Ball and a Santa Glaus Party, given by the students in the 
school, where Moholy judged costumes and presents ranging from 
a personification of Leger's "Abandoned Farm," complete with 
broken wheel, barbed wire, and sweet potato, to a "Constructivist 
Moth Bag/' looking like a mobilized Mondrian painting. 

The School of Design experiment refuted the belief 
that endowment and expensive equipment determine educational 
success. After the hierarchical character of the German Bauhaus, 
and tbe deceptive opulence of industrial sponsorship in the Amer- 
ican New Bauhaus, Moholy proved to himself and his staff that 
education is solely the responsibility of the teacher, and that no 
material aid can take the place of the sustained power of personal 

Wealthy Chicagoans who had been so enthusiastic 
about M dboly's coming felt little inclination to accept the court 
venfiet against the Association of Arts and Industries. Cause and 


victim were readilv identifier], and our Mx-ial contacts broke off. 
The exception was Walter Paepekc, President of the Container 
Corporation of America, who had been one of the trustees of the 
Association. In the spring of 1939 he offered Mohoh a vacant farm 
and two acres of land on a purelv nominal lease if the School of 
Design wanted to conduct a summer school in the countrv . U hen 
Moholy told me about the offer I v\as delighted. 

U I want a place where the children can get aua> from 
the dangers and restrictions of the ch\/" I said, looking down into 
the filthy back alleys of Chicago's Gold Coast. "If onlv thev can 
be in the country for a fe\\ months each vear/' 

"This is a plan for a school, not for a nurserv/" Mohoh 
said reproachfully "If we accept the house we'll do it because 
it gives us a chance to earn cooperation and integration to a 
point that can never be reached within a citv group/* 

But it was ob\ious that neither he nor an) of the 
teachers could add the organization of a summer school to their 
schedule. They were greatly overburdened %vith teaching and the 
necessity of supplementing their minimum salaries bv outside 

"You're the onlv one who could do it," 1 Mohol) said, 
"If you want a country place for the children, you'll have to work 
for it." 

"I accept," I said, feeling as sure of mv abditv to 
shoulder this new obligation as when I had pledged myself to the 
support of our first child. 

The "Rumney Place," five miles out of Somonauk, 
Illinois, and two hours drive from Chicago, was badl> ran down. 
The last tenant had abandoned it five years earlier, and nothing 
had been done to prevent the rapid disintegration that befalls 
unoccupied buildings in the country. The main part of the house 
was over a hundred years old (Fig. 57^; the ancient beams in 
the basement sagged precariously, and the window frames broke 
like brittle cake when one tried to lift them. There was no plumb- 
ing, no electricity, no water but there were beautiful old trees 
in the yard, acres of meadowland and open timber on eadb siie, 
and a deep ringing calmness in the air. Blissfully unaware of 


Fig. 57. Main Building of the School of Design Summer Camp near Somonauk, 

labor conditions in the country, I decided that the restoration of 
the farm would be done with "typical American speed." But in 
spite of my exasperation, all negotiations for repair work had to be 
couched in an abundance of conversation, starting with the 
weather and leading slowly toward the core of the matter. It would 
tiave been highly improper to conduct business in any other way. 
There still wasn't any wiring, and water was pumped from a tem- 
peramental gasoline pump when the first students arrived. But we 
oouM oer some comfort, thanks to Frederick Spiegel, Moholy's 
employer in the mail-order business, who had contributed furni- 
ture and appliances at a generous discount. James Prestini, instruc- 
tor in Woodcraft, an untiring friend of the school throughout its 
existence, installed his superb collection of tools along the walls of 
file workshop barn, and Gyorgy Kepes and Robert Jay Wolff had 
planned a curriculum for visual design and sculpture that utilized 
all ^euejals of the outdoors. 

CNr newly established Art Camp, far off in an unknown 


corner of the countr), advertising a collaborative" program that 
differed from anything offered bv other summer schools, at first 
attracted predominantly sin h students as were either afraid of 
competing with the average crowd or incapable of adjusting 
socially to their environment. Of the thirteen men and women who 
enrolled for the first season, all but four were, in one way or 
another off the beaten psychological track. There was a dor-eved 
divorcee with an insatiable hunger for male attention; a joung 
Texan who confessed that his sole reason for attending the school 
was his mother's exasperation at his ravenous appetite, and an 
Amish schoolteacher who had brought all her vociferous prejudices 
and repressions. The} quarreled among each other and complained 
to me, venting their tensions less in creative work than in fights 
that often reached the hand-to-hand stage. I had not vet learned 
to evaluate dissatisfaction and bickering as svmptoms of emotional 
instability rather than well-founded criticism, and in my efforts to 
meet all demands I exhausted m} emotional and mental resources. 

Each Friday when Moholy arrived at the farm the 
black sheep turned an innocent white, listening attentively to his 
lantern-slide lectures, following his corrections of their work, 
and joining in a mannerly fashion social gatherings at the Old 
Mill, a lovely tavern of prohibition-day notoriety in the meadows 
of the Fox River Valley. He paid no attention to my reports of 
the troubled situation during the week. The first summer session 
of the School of Design in Chicago posed new problems with 
substitute teachers and vacation schedules, and his commercial 
work absorbed the rest of his energies. With a belligerent indif- 
ference he refused to become interested in any problems not 
related to his own work. Once he had delegated power, he rejected 
all further responsibility. To recognize this unsympathetic attitude 
as self-defense had been one of the hardest tasks of my life. It 
demanded a self-restraint which doesn't come easily to a yoimg 
woman in love. 

At the end of the summer session I was deeply dis- 
couraged with the results. For once my optimism in shouldering 
responsibilities had been excessive. The labor put into this project 
seemed wasted, and I was infinitely relieved when the experiment 


was not repeated the following summer. Alfred Neumeyer, head of 
the Art Department at Mill's College in Oakland, invited Moholy 
and the faculty to conduct a summer school there along Bauhaus 
lines. Late in June, 1940, Moholy and I set out for California. 
It was a perfect trip, full of long silences, the common enjoyment 
of visual discovery, and intellectual stimulus. We stopped on the 
desolate salt flats of Utah to hear the radio report of the fall of 
France, which we both loved as a spiritual homeland. We followed 
some deer off the Grand Canyon Road at three in the morning, 
and when our differential broke down at the top of a Nevada 
mountain, we succumbed to gambling while waiting for repairs. 
I became an expert at stopping dead-short at sixty miles per hour 
when I heard the familiar cry, indicating that Moholy had spotted 
a "photogenic" vista, and I melted patiently in 108 degrees heat 
while he recorded every angle of the Boulder Dam, and every 
interrelationship of nature and technology. 

By the time we arrived at Mills College, Moholy had 
lost most of his English vocabulary. During the trip he had insisted 
on speaking only German, which he loved. But even though he 
had lost his facility of speech, he had regained the spirit of high 
adventure which had been his most distinguished characteristic 
as a young instructor. He consented to a schedule of thirty teach- 
ing and lecturing hours a week. Together with five of his best 
teachers he put a group of eighty-three students through an intensi- 
fied Bauhaus curriculum, including every workshop and every 
major exercise. Late at night or on the few free Sundays, we would 
drive into San Francisco, We loved this unusual town, its clean 
contemporary structure, the golden color of the wild oats on the 
hillsides, and the red bark in the forests. In his painting "Mills 
#2, 1940" (Fig. 58), Moholy has translated the color-light inter- 
play of the Bay region into a composition of glowing transparency. 
For Ae first time since we had left Europe, the atmosphere of a 
eity seamed filled with an enjoyment of nonmaterial values art, 
nisie theatre not as demonstrations of wealth and privilege, 
kit as group projects of young people and of the community. The 
WISOTB^ eo-operative units, studios, and schools offered a hos- 
pitality of die spirit that had been unknown to us in America. 

**be day I'll come back," Moholy said as we drove 

Fig. 58. Mills #2, 1940. Plexiglass Spaas-Modulator. 

over the Bav Bridge foi the LK time, "One dav I'll hate S 
in the bank and I'll spend two vearv in San Fran* MO." 

We arrived back in Chicago without a penn\. To give 
the students at Mills the full Bauhaus curriculum, Mohoh had 
split his own salar} with his staff. We had to borrow mone\ to 
pa> the lent and buv a month's supplies But the School of Design 
had established its reputation, and a do/en student* who had 
attended the summer session at Mills enrolled for the fall term 
to finish the work the) had started during the summer. 

The discouraging experiences* of the first summer term 
on the Somonauk school farm never repeated themselves. A verv 
different group came in the summer of 1911 and the following 
years. The workshop collaboration became one of the mobt fruitful 
and creative branches of the school work. Bv an unwritten agree- 
ment, students of graduate abilitv worked in the countrv. while 
the younger crowd preferred the citv and the greater technical 
facilities of the Chicago workshops. Sometimes four or five heads 
of college art departments lived on the farm, combining intensive 
work with the quiet recreations of eountr) life. Once it was 
organized, the summer session became Mohoh's greatest enjov- 
ment. The abundant nature around us presented an unending 
variety of form and function. There were the smooth, man) -formed 
pebbles in the creek and the gravel pit, the cattle bones that were 
dug up in the fields, and the texture of living bark. Mushrooms, 
fungi, wasps' nests, fragments of shell from bird's eggs, piled up 
on shelves and tables and rotted quietly in the hot summer air. 
They were magnificent photographic material. A cabbage leaf, 
eaten into intricate designs by a caterpillar, was as fascinating as 
a tangle of rusted wire on a slab of limestone. The wooden floors 
in the old house had worn hollow, the hard substance of the 
wood showing like the veins on an old hand. Mohoiy was fascinated 
by this process of wood attrition, and, with pencil, crayon, and 
colored chalk, he did rubbings on paper and canvas to study the 
texture and the rhythm of line and color {Fig. 59). After his 
return to the city eaefo Monday night, the small working com- 
munity was noticeably hashed. For the following four days they 
devoted themselves with silent industry to an exemplification of 


what they had leained over the week end, presenting the results 
proudly and anxiously on Fnday night When the war created 
a food problem and the lack of help forced the discontinuation 
of the farm summer sessions in 1944, we felt we had lost one of 
the most joyfully rewarding aspects of our work. 


with crayon in black and orange. 

He School of Design had completed six regular terms 
Mohoiy faced another threat to his work. During the fall 
Cm* of 1941 more than half of the teachers and students had to 
km for die Airmed Forces, and after Pearl Harbor the exodus 
I0c& Aiosfc universal Plywood, photographic materials, metal, 
*4 papa me in price and soon became unobtainable. Highly 
fatiloty fdbs hired away maintenance personnel and office 
Wft HA$fy had little time to map a new strategy to save his 


Fig. 60. Camouflage Exhibition at the School of Design in Chicago, 1943. In- 
structor Gyorgy Kepes. 

school. He had to think fast. Eight weeks after Pearl Harbor, 
when the spring semester of 1942 opened, he had found three 
connecting links between the program of the School of Design 
and the war effort. The analysis of visual elements, and the psy 
chology of light and color perception, could he applied to camou- 
flage techniques. The creative co-ordination of hand and eye, 
shaping new forms and exploring new uses for known materials, 
could serve disabled veterans in occupational therap) ; arid, 
thirdly, the knowledge of wood and its infinite adaptability could 
lead to a replacement of metal parts b) wood forms. There werd 
many instances of quick conversion in American industry. Whal 
distinguished Moholy's program was its organic incorporation 
into the school curriculum, providing students, not with t cur- 
tailed or compromised version, but with extended vistas and 

On December 19, 1941, Moholy was appointed to the 
Mayor's personal staff in charge of camouflage activities in the 
Chicago area. During blizzards and rainstorms, In fog and in 
brilliant sunlight, he had to take flights to absorb air views of 


the cit} under diverse weather conditions. While he fought air 
sickness, which he never overcame completely, he pondered how 
to conceal the vastness of Lake Michigan with a simulated shore 
line and floating islands In January, 1942, the School of Design 
became a certified school for camouflage personnel. As head of 
the Camouflage Workshop, Gyorgy Kepes produced a wide range 
of new techniques and concepts. When they were displayed for 
the first time in 1943, they aroused wide attention (Fig. 60) 
The Occupational Therapy Course entailed unending 
visits to hospitals, rounds of lectures and conferences, and stra- 
tegic battles with the wardens of charity. Moholy's interest in 
the therapeutical aspects of crafts and design had always been 
part of his teaching. In his books Metier ei-Photogjaphie-Film 
and The New Vision, he had pointed out the psychological blocks 
to a fearless realization of man's creative urge. Dr Franz Alexan- 
der, whose friendship with Moholy dated back to the days when 
both had been students of Alexander's famous father at the Uni- 
versity of Budapest, offered advice and help. As head of the Chi- 
cago Institute for Psychoanalysis he had made psychosomatic 
interrelationships his life-study He had often sent to Moholy 
patients who required creative work as part of their treatment, 
and he now consented to give a series of introductory lectures to 
the students of Occupational Therapy at the School of Design. 
Durkg the first war year, Moholy built up a program that aimed at 

... an understanding of the handicapped as having the same 
potential source of creative energies as is inherent in every 
human being. His best qualities have to be considered and 
brought into the open m order that he may not only try to 
restore the standard of his previous state but attempt to rise 
beyond it to a higher efficiency and a higher productive level. 4 

goal was 

a planned vocational rehabilitation following hospitaliza- 
The person handicapped as a result of an accident, having 
been imbued with the idea that he may rise above his former 
capability, will orient himself toward such an accomplishment. 

Tbm Before," by L. Moholy-Nagy, The Technology Review, 
* . NTOi)er 1, November 1943 (Massachusetts Institute of 
&gf) ; also available as a reprint. 


Naturally, in practice om* shuuld not hope f<r Mip 
results But we cannot accompli^ anvthmji bv teafhiriji a *inglf 
craft. The patient has to bt stimulated bv a vM-li-n.undrd pro 
gram in order that he mav be activated to a full evaluation of 
his own situation He can then attempt to strive for the m-H 
goal which is to reali/e the maximum extent of hi^ capacities 
in the industrial world. 4 

Dr. Konrad Soinmer, head of the Illinois \euro- 
psychiatric Institute, and Franz Alexander supported MohoVs 
ideas. They sent students, nurses, and social workers to attend 
classes at the School of Design and thev arranged for \fohoh ** 
appearance before several medical conventions. For two \ears a 
selected group worked on extended applications of the principles 
laid down in '"Better Than Before" for the training of CM < upational 
therapists. But the appointed guardian angels of the crippled and 
the handicapped didn't like Moholv's ideas. Thev resented his 
efforts to take rehabilitation out of the grasp of charitv and incor- 
porate it m the Social Securitv Act; the) ridiculed his demand 
for a training program that was to include psychology, art and 
technology to produce better therapists; and thev fought back 
with patriotic cliches when Mohol} proposed that the disabled 
soldier, the injured worker, and the mentall) deficient should 
come under the same rehabilitation program, securing in this wav 
an equal standard of professional assistance. Wounded veterans 
had to keep on listening to benevolent ladies who considered 
basket-weaving or lamp-shade decorating adequate work for a 
mature man, and the bane of the injured war worker remained 
the social worker of whom George Edward Bartm had written 
in 1919: 

It is unreasonable to suppose that an anemk, neurasthenic 
woman, bored to death with her own life and imiapable of 
firm decisions or strenuous endeavor, should l>e able to instil 
into the mind of a sick man the ?ery qualities, which she her- 
self lacks. 

But like all seeds scattered on the earth, Moholy's concrete sug- 
gestions germinated in many different places where the nurses 
and young doctors who attended his courses now worked. They 
also helped, together with the Camouflage Workshop, to see the 


Fig. 61. Wood-Spring Mattress developed at the School of Design for Seng and 
Co., Chkago, 1943. 

School of Design through a severe crisis caused by dwindling 
manpower and increased expenses. 

The third project, "Wood-Springs," developed organ- 
ically from woodcuts, made by hand and machine, which gave 
to a rigid board a rubber-like elasticity. Once cutting, laminating, 
and gluing had been carefully explored, it was a logical step to 
find a practical application for this unexploited quality of man's 
oldest material. In Vision in Motion Moholy reported on the 
twenty-four different types of wood-spring developed in the school 
workshop. Finally Jack Waldheim, in collaboration with a Hun- 
garian carpenter, Kalman Toman, who had the unobtrusive genius 
of the craftsman of old, arrived at a spring which could be easily 
produced and which provided the comfortable elasticity of a 
metal box-spring. Frank J. Seng, a Chicago manufacturer, found 
it worth his while to supply a set of special machinery and a 
working capital of $10,000 to produce the first nonmetal all-wood 
i>ecbprmg (Fig. 61). When in July, 1943, the Saturday Evening 
Posfs Robert Yoder wrote a report about Moholy and his school, 5 
lie photographed the janitor, Gus, taking a noon nap on the com- 
fortable contraption. 

Prices rose and the income from tuition fees dwindled, 
came and left in quick succession, and the students who 
were worried more about their draft status than about 

a Contemporary?" 

their work. It was then that Moholv rernemlwTed frederuk Kr|>|if*l. 
President of the Carnegie Corporation of V\v ><rk. vslm had 
listened so s\mpatheticall\ to the report on the \nicruan Vu 
Bauhaus. In a long letter Mohoh explained the m> d^pcrfe of 
the curriculum, adding a portfolio of < lipping^ and liberations. 
But the result was negathe. The war. Mr. Kepjwi replied, had 
put before the Foundation tasks of greater urgent. Art education 
would have to wait for peace and the re-establishment of normal 
conditions. Two da>s after the depressing news \lohoh inquired 
about our bank balance. This \vas surprising rHvauH* ^e had 
come to an agreement that he was riot to I** bothered with <ur 
personal money. The school budget, he had insisted. *as all the 
financial worry he could take. Our income tax, checks, and hills 
were lo be my burden When I told him that He onried about 
$1,000 he was delighted. 

"Splendid! I'll go to Xew York Sunday night. Plea*** 
get a Pullman ticket." 

"But why go now ? You're so desperately needed at 
the school?"" 

"This is more important. After all mone\ has to come 
first " 

"Money? Do \ou have any prospects'"*'' 

"Sure. The Carnegie Corporation." 

"But they have just refused. The\ said quite clearlv 
that they have to support the war effort," 

"That's just it." Mohol) grinned. 'TH take them up 
on their own statement. Ill argue our place in the *var effort to 
a point where they can't deny their support without looking down- 
right unpatriotic." I 

Three months later the School of Design received | 
grant of $5,000 from the Carnegie Corporation which was fol- 
lowed in one year's time by an equal amount; and in June, 1942, 
the Rockefeller Foundation's amicable and progressive directors, 
John Marshall and David Steveos, succumbed to a similar eain- 
paign of attrition and granted $7,500 for photographic and motion- 
picture equipment. 

At the end of the spring semester, 1942, the first class 
of seven students graduated with bachelor's degrees. They tad 


studied eight semesters at The New Bauhaus and the School of 
Design. In his commencement address Moholy could proudly 
stale that 

... the past four years have proved the workability of the 
Bauhaus Idea in American vocational training It was the spirit 
of collaboration between students and teachers that made us. 
Everyone working here, from the office force to the visiting 
professors of the University of Chicago, realized the adversities, 
but they also realized that at all times our goal was greater 
than our obstacles. 

Since the outbreak of the war, students and faculty have been 
confronted with queries as to whether our work is not a luxury 
in times of strife We have been urged to "teach something 
real" instead of insisting on experimental work with pencil, 
brush, camera, tool, and loom. It is in answer to this question 
that I want to define our moral obligations toward society. 

It is a great privilege to be allowed the exercise of one's skill 
and ambition m times of war when millions die and additional 
millions barely survive. But it is a privilege granted to you by 
society, an investment made for the future benefit of man 
You are the men and women on whose sincerity and effort 
depends the future progress of education. It doesn't matter 
whether you make wood-springs or chairs, design a house or 
a poster, work with veterans or children. It is all education, 
adding to the crude struggle for physical survival, the qualities 
that distinguish man from beast. 

Democracy is based upon an exchange of equivalents. It is the 
obligation of those who were permitted to develop their finest 
capabilities to exchange one day their creative skill for the 
productive and harmonious existence of a new generation. 


When the day was done. Moholv went home to paint. 
During a normal week he had taught Advanced Product Design. 
Motion Picture, a seminar on Modern Art; and a night class in 
Painting. There were an unscheduled number of hours which 
had been spent on administrative detail, solicitation of con- 
tributions, student counseling, and the commercial design work 
which provided our financial support. During the war vears there 
were long meetings with the local Office of Chilian Defence, hear- 
ings on draft deferments, and weekh sessions with the American 
Federation of Democratic Hungarians. 

This group was a curious assembly of doctors, lawvers, 
shopkeepers, artisans, and workmen, who had no more in com- 
mon than their Hungarian nationality and their devotion to 
Moholy. Driven by the same nostalgic loyalty which had seemed 
so ridiculous to him in his friend Eisenstein ten \ears earlier, 
Moholy tried "to form a permanent organization to work for the 
defeat of Hitler and the liberation of Hungarians from despotic 
rule, and to assist in the undercover democratic movement in 
Hungary." It was the ultimate aim of this group to establish 
Count Michael Karolyi, Hungarian land-reformer and exile, as 
Prime Minister of a democratic Hungarian government. Moholy 
spoke before steel-mill workers In Gary and coal miners in Penn- 
sylvania; he sat through endless amateur shows which are the 
peculiar obsession of all foreign language groups; he went to 
Washington to enlist the support of Eleanor Roosevelt for the 
cause; and he spent hours on the telephone, trying to pacify the 
fiercely individualistic tempers of his followers. 

Around ten o'clock at night he came home, ate a sub- 
stantial dinner, and started to paint He usually worked until one 
o'clock, and he painted each Sunday. If fee had to travel, or if 
visitors and invitations cut down his schedule, he worked until 


two or three in the morning. On tram and airplane trips, and on 
the rare days when he didn't go to the school, he dictated the 
manuscript of Vision in Motion. 

He never painted in his office, but each morning he 
picked up the half-finished work from the night before and took 
it to school. This became our badge, the special attribute that 
distinguished us from thousands of other couples driving toward 
the city at 8:30 in the morning On the back seat of our car rested 
an abstract painting, and beside it sat a workman's lunch pail 
Moholy was a lover of fine food, and the average restaurant 
meal was unacceptable to him. He preferred a box lunch of cold 
meat, salad, and fruit. 

In a burst of optimism I had once put a narrow 
couch into his office, hoping that he would lie down and rest be- 
tween day and night work. He never did but the gray cloth of the 
cover offered an ideal background for a canvas, a water color, or a 
piece of sculpture. 

"I work subconsciously during the day," Moholy 
said once when I objected to a particularly heavy piece of plastic 
which we had lugged back and forth for weeks. "When I look up 
from my desk, my eyes catch form and color. I never think about 
it consciously during the day. But by nighttime the next step has 
clarified itself. It's like a meal, left to simmer slowly on a corner 
of the stove." 

There were few cabs during the war years, and when I 
was not free to pick him up at night, Moholy relied on a lift or 
the bus to come home. But there were occasions when no car 
was available, and the crowded buses wouldn't take on a passenger 
with a painting half his own size. Then Moholy walked four miles, 
protecting his canvas with his coat. 

He rarely used an easel; it was an emergency device 
to which lie resorted only if the canvas or the plastic sheet were 
to big to fit on the dining-room table, on my desk, or in his 
larswite spot trie floor space between couch and bookshelves in 
ffcft living room. On Sundays he took his work into the nursery, 
while the children played and talked, listening to their 
tales ad radio programs. He liked the original Oz books 
with ttseir fantastic color imagination, and he npv*r tir<H of 

Mortimer Snerd on Edgar Bergen's show. He had great sunpatin 
for the unsophisticated >okel lost among the wL^ec'raikinj.* <sit\ 
dwellers. From his rural childhood he had retained a deep sus- 
picion of verbal smartness, and he delighted in straight earthlv 
fun. "Shaggy-Dog Stories' 1 of talking animals and dumb humans 
were his favorites, and after his death I found that neral 
pages of his notebook were filled with ke\-word reminders, sm h 
as: "Performer, dog, parrot, piano, ventriloquist." Now and then 
Hattula and Claudia were permitted to stipple the corner of a 
canvas or scratch a line on a plastic surface. Everv picture made b\ 
his daughters was carefully dated and collected, and he composed 
a radiant collage around one of Hattula's childish figures. When 
he wrote Vision in Motion he included work of both of his 
children, 1 and their visual progress was a steadv point of reference 
in his lectures. 

Plexiglass for sculptures and space modulators was 
heated in the kitchen oven. When he \vas read) for the exe< ution 
of a new piece while the Sunday roast was in the making, the 
dinner was postponed and we all participated in the creation. 
Moholy had tried to mold the hot plastic while wearing gloves, 
but it impaired his sensitivity, and the fabric left flaws on the 
polished surface. So he bent it with his bare hands, jumping 
wildly up and down while he burned his fingers. The children 
took his agonized leaps for antics, and watched delightedly. After 
each twist had been realized, the hot piece had to be held in shape 
until it hardened sufficiently to be submerged in warm water in 
the bath tub where it cooled off slowly and became solid again. 
Many hands were needed to keep the plastic form from collapsing, 
and the children became experts in applying a strictly prescribed 

Moholy's distaste for working in solitude never 
changed. As on that night in 1932 when he had conquered the 
paralysis of political defeatism and had again started to paint, 
I remained the lion in the cell of St. Hieroeymus- When he fell 
ill in 1946 and had to agree to a vacation in the country, he com- 
plained bitterly that the smalfoess of the rooms and the poor light 
conditions in our old farmhouse Bear Somonauk would make 

1 Pp. 118, 324. 


painting impossible. I decided to fix a barn loft as a studio. The 
big openings through which the gram had been loaded were 
screened. Easel, working table, stools, were brought from the city, 
and the rough floor boards were covered with linoleum in case he 
wanted to paint on the floor. But he never used it. He did not 
even look at it. Unexpectedly, he settled down on the kitchen 
porch of the Somonauk farmhouse. There he was close to the 
smell of food, the clatter of pots and pans, the back door at which 
appeared neighbors, peddlers, and strangers who had lost their 
way, and to the clicking of my typewriter. He didn't speak while 
he painted, and he never participated in the conversations. It was 
the sustaining atmosphere of togetherness that he needed. 

When Moholy had joined the Bauhaus in 1923, he had 
already realized two distinctly different directions in his painting. 
His Expressiomstic period unconscious during his war years, 
and conscious in Budapest and Vienna had come to an end 
shortly after he arrived in Berlin. When he dropped the realistic 
model, he also dropped analytical color and form representation 
inspired by Cubism. It had accomplished its task of "shaking his 
visual lethargy," and it had taught him to observe the structural 
reality of matter. Cubism and Expressionism had been the grind- 
stones on which to sharpen his senses. Beyond that they offered 
him no development toward unexplored goals. 

The second period, characterized by Suprematist and 
Neoplasticist influences, had lasted approximately three years, 
until 1924 The Suprematist attempt to render objectified emotion 
through "the suprematism of the plane (with the additional ele- 
ment of the Suprematist straight) , and the suprematism of space 
(with the additional element of the Suprematist square)" 2 had 
emphasized a mental and visual discipline that transcended purely 
expression. Through Malevich, Moholy had grasped 
of uaeans and universality of meaning. He economized 
Ime and plane, and started to think in terms of an objectified 

wr Maievidi, Die gegenstandslose Welt (The Nonobjective World} 
(Bmkam Biteker, Ho. 11, Munich, 1927). 


Fig. 62. A II, 1923. Oil on 

Neoplasticism, through the work of Piet Mondrian, 
added tension and harmony to Moholy's comprehension. Mon- 
drian had written: 

It is important to discern two sorts of equilibrium. First, a 
static balance, and second, a dynamic equilibrium. The first 
maintains the individual unity of particular forms; the second 
is the unification of forms, or of elements of forms, through 
continuous opposition. 3 

Mondrian's attempt to establish a new ^absolute reality" through 
the rectangle and the three primary colors, confirmed and clari- 
fied Moholy's intuitive knowledge of the laws of tension and 
balance. Through Mondrian he understood structure as an in- 
trinsic law to be revealed in form relationships, and not an intel- 
lectual concept to be imposed from without 

1923 was a year of adjustment to the Bauhaus and its 
specific tasks, but by 1924 Moholy had clarified the fundamentals 
from which to compose his own visual language. It conH neither 

3 Piet Mondnam, Plastic Art md Pure Pimtk Art (Wittenbora md <X 

New York, 1947). 


Fig. 63. B 100, 1928, Oil on canvas. 

be the illusive reality of traditional painting, nor the illustrative 
rendering of simultaneity and motion as with the Cubists and Fu- 
turists. His vision would transcend Suprematism and Neoplasti- 
cism because it surpassed structural harmony and spatial tension 
with a rhythmic interplay of light, color, and form, unafraid of 
emotional connotations. And it envisioned beyond the dynamic 
tfakd, a kinetic fourth dimension. For twenty years, between 1923 
and 1943, Moholy was like a gem-cutter, adding with infinite pa- 
tience facet after facet to his intuitive vision. At the end of his life, 
wt one moment of total fulfillment, the six faces of his magic stone 
w^e ai visible. Its transparent planes, worked to perfection by a 
lifetime of craftsmanship, referred to one center light perceived 
imm six different angles. 

The first facet had been the sharp surgical cut toward 
fiiBcbmeptal simplicity, the tabula rasa cleared of the remnants 
of literary symbolism in art. The canvas "A II, 1923" (Fig. 62), 


is a factual statement of form in space. It confirms the \ihim! 
reality of line and color as self-expressive and nonsyrnbolic. The 
Suprematist cross, and the rectangular harmonies of VnpiasficiMii 
are evident, but a first attempt at supenmposition is already vi*.- 
ible to indicate the next facet space penetration through trans- 

"B 100" is the accomplished effort toward this space 
penetration which had started to occupy Moholy in 1923. Three- 
dimensionality here is no longer identical with the illusion of a 
perspective view into nature. Depth-creating lines, and the finest 
gradations of superimposed gray and white pigment, are the 
perspective elements to render space. The slightest change in the 
position of the two grills would annul the third dimension. The 
emotional experience of flight into depth, and the harmonious 
equilibrium of pure form, have merged in "B 100" ( Fig. 63 1 . 

To realize the first t\\o facets of his \ision, Moholy 
had relied more on line than on color, and more on transparency 
than on pigment. With "Large Aluminum Picture, 1926" < Fig 
64) begins a third phase, color, that allowed for infinite variations. 
The formal and the spatial were supplemented by the dynamic, 
"A II, 1923" and "B 100" held the eye of the spectator in a 
central position. Once he had grasped the point of equilibrium 
where the two crosses overlap just below the center in "A II," or 
his sight had traveled along the receding screen to the farthest 
vanishing point in "B 100," there would be a static rest. But the 
floating structure of the "Large Aluminum Picture" was dynamic. 
The converging lines from top to bottom of the plane, and the 
three winged spheres rolling to the left and pointing to the right, 
are nonstatic. Their dynamism persists in spite of the fixing gaze. 

The visual wealth contained within these three facets 
the self-sufficiency of form, the depth indication of transparency, 
and the dynamic color construction occupied Moholy lor many 
years. The variations were unending and he played with them 
joyously and creatively throughout his life (Fig. 65). 

The philosophical basis of this art was an esthetic 
collectivism, born and nourished from the revolutions that had 
formed his character. The protest against the caste spirit of the 
Imperial world and the deceptive sentoentallty of the old iconog- 
raphy had been sublimated into 


fig. 64 large Aluminum tore, 1926. 

Fig. 65. Ch XIV, 1939. Oil on canvas. 

. a fanatic will to build constructively and to create 
jubilantly. The Constructivism that is our new dimension has 
no other purpose than to participate m hfe. It is essentially 
one with the spirit of evolution that created science, cwiliza- 
tions and the systems that govern social Me. Like them, cm- 
structive art is processual, forever open in all directs. It * 
a bualder of man's abihty to perceive, to react emottonally^ 
and to reason logically.* 

But the means of expression had not yet transcended those of the 
Renaissance painter; only their application had been vaned Lme 
n-adation, perspective, and pigment had become nonsymbohc, yet 

Fig. 66. UL 11,1 936 Oil 
on Silverit Plate, mounted 
on gray plywood. 

they still represented the maximum extension of man's ability to 
render pictorial illusion. The activation of light, as the fourth 
facet in Moholy's hexagon, would be the first attempt to draw the 
surrounding atmosphere actively into the picture plane. The 
aluminum picture and "LAL II, 1936" (Fig. 66) show pigment 
modulated by light on a polished surface that absorbed and reflected 
all gradations from darkness to a silvery luster. Oil paint was 
applied in thick layers. After it had dried, Moholy sandpapered 
it down to complete smoothness. Then he applied another layer, 
and repeated the process until a light-bridge led from the texture- 
less brilliance of the metal surface to the vivid modulations of 
the rough pigment. 

But there was no shadow. The minute recesses and 
of the painted texture were too delicate to give the 
of the living world which Moholy had considered so 
ssenllal ia his film work. His own dictum for the film-maker, that 
**tlbere*s no life without shadow," became the impetus toward the 
ifib fecet In rendering shadow he was glorifying light. 

His early celluloid and gallalith pictures before 1925 
W been attempts to render lighted pigment, to give to the known 


Fig. 67. Modulator 50, 1936. Transparent rhodoid sheet with oil paint and engraved 
lines; perforated. 

color values a new radiance expressing the joy of perceiving an 
infinite variety of hues. But the media were unsatisfactory. Cellu- 
loid cracked and yellowed, gallalith warped easily, and the com- 
mercial dyes were too crude to blend with the carefully nrned oi| 
paints. Although they were discontinued these experiments 

had inevitable repercussions on my thinking concern...* 
light problems. To produce true primary relationships <* 
former idea of an "objective" pottfe) * 
reason for my use of smooth fiat surface.!. '* 
nearest to the transition bm cote i* light, s-.metl.m6 lie 
an objective texture invention for a detote d . 
medium. By producing real radian, light effect through tram- 
parent dyes on plasA, aad through other me**, one ^ .. 
need for translating light into color by .lh P .gment. 
Light-painting hact arrived. 5 
5 "Abstract of an Artist." 


% 6& Cobr and Ugfct MmMofor, 1945. Freestanding plexiglass sheet with oil 
paint on Wad fefiwca base. 

The first of the light modulators, done in London, had 
been no more than a translation of form into a medium that vtould 
include the shadow of that form. The sketches that followed 
probed two potential variations of this inclusive light pattern: 
perforation, and warping of the surface. In five \ears MohoK 
realized these two notions of light modulation within the picture 
plane. "Modulator 50, 1936" (Fig. 67] shows a perforated center. 
The brilliant white of the sprayed wood background contrasts ttith 
the filmlike transparency of the plastic sheet, creating a center 
of vision along the black diagonal line that ranges from jet black 
to a smooth, unpigmented white. 

The "warped surface" found its most accomplished 
realization in "Handshaped Plastic, 1942/' 6 Here the molded 
plastic sheet had been shaded by three different colors. Light 
either reflects from the curved surface or is filtered through the 
transparent material to create a dramatic variety of shadows on 
the white background. There are plexiglass modulators of many 
sizes and concepts, from the gay "Papmae, 1941," which utilizes 
a natural flow in the plastic material, to the imposing "Space 
Modulator With Highlights, 1942" 7 and u Color and Light Modu- 
lator, 1945" (Fig. 68). In each modulator the plastic sheet was 
held in place either by chromium clamps, extending two inches 
from the background, or by two rails screwed into the %ood. 
Rhodoid was more flexible than plexiglass and needed a more 
rigid support, but plexiglass was smoother, so that the painted 
areas were always in danger of peeling. After the years had dried 
out the pigment, it became obvious that a method had to be found 
by which to hold oil paint on a plastic surface. Mofaoh started to 
roughen it with a network of fine hairlines, incised with a sharp 
engraver's needle. These scratch patterns called for infinite 
patience. They tired his eyes, which often looked! red and swollen 
after he had completed a picture. Later he discovered that it 
would increase the adhesive effect if th lines were of different 
depth and applied in a crisscross pattern. The vertkak were 
engraved with a heavy needle, and the horizontals with a very fine 
one. Then color was rabbed into the network before the final caat 

6 Vision in Motion, Fig. 213. 

7 Ibid., p. 66. 


was applied. If the plexiglass was to be perforated, or if a future 
sculpture had to be cut out from a sheet of plastic, only the finest 
jigsaw blade would do. Even so, many sheets cracked or splintered 
until Moholy decided to leave the protective paper coating on the 
sheet. He drew his sketch on this brown packing paper, and he 
and his old friend Kalman would meet in school after class hours 
to do the cutting. Then the paper coating was removed. 

But in spite of seemingly countless variations, around 
1944 the light modulator came to an end as part of Moholy's 
development from form to motion and from pigment to light. 
Because even the light modulator remained a static painting, no 
matter how dynamic its composition. The spectator was still com- 
pelled to view it passively like any other work of art born from 
the Greek tradition. With the instinct of the teacher, Moholy knew 
that to recreate the art experience of the painter demands of the 
spectator a high level of emotional and intellectual sensitivity 
given to few. The re-creative action became his goal, the establish- 
ment of an immediate relationship between spectator and object. 
The first step in this direction was of Gordian direct 
ness. When he left London for Chicago in 1937 he had completed 
two plastic "leaves" made of clear celluloid. Each measured ten 
by fifteen inches. One of these leaves carried on the front side 
delicate black hairlines and an oblong perforation, and strongly 
textured blue and white forms on the reverse side. The other 
leaf had a pattern of four straight horizontals. On a smooth wide 
background "screen" of sprayed plywood floated a sphere in 
brilliant orange-red. 

"Have the two leaves spiral-bound down the middle 
f the white background," Moholy told me when he left for 
Am0rka. "The leaves have to move like the pages of a book. Is 
tbat clear?" 

I thought it was, but I was in the minority. For days 
tfae London binderies, carrying board and leaves like 
of amor. 

"Where's the text?" the foreman would ask after a 
at the designs. "These are covers, but what's 

: ig. 69. Spiral-bound Mobile Picture, 1936. Position 1. Oil paint and engraved lines 
m celluloid sheet. 

"Nothing. Just put them together with spiral binding 
and fasten it to the middle of the hoard." 

"What for?" 

I was fooled into honesty. "To create new light effects, 
super-impositions." I held the leaves against the light. "See?" 

"No, I don't. Tell you what " A hinder in Chelsea 
was at least willing to give the matter some thought. "Let's call 
up your boss, and if he confirms the order I'll do it." ' 

"He's he's in America." 

"In America? Why would he want us to do such an 
odd job if he's in America?" 

Guiltily I took my burden home. 

The spiral binding was done in Chicago. Assembled, 
the white and red background painting and tiie transparent, 
perforated leaves created a kinetic psiiting tiiat depeocW 00 the 
action of the spectator. By tainting the leaves ml varying & 


Fig. 70. Spiral-bound Mobile Picture, 1936. Position II. Oil paint and engraved lines 
on celluloid sheets, 

air space between the different picture layers, he could create a 
variety of light and color combinations of his own choice (Figs 

There are several designs for further "leaf paintings" 
among Moholy's sketches, but he never executed them. As school 
work, commercial and civic jobs, writing, and lecture tours 
pressed harder and harder, he became obsessed with the passing 
of time. His experiments aimed at the solution of one problem. 
Wfem it had been solved, he prepared for the next step. And this 
next step, the last facet in his total vision, was the kinetic sculp- 
tore^sealptare modulated by the kinetics of light and the kinetics 
of motion. The- wood, nickel, and glass sculptures Moholy had 
iwfc Airing his years at the German Bauhaus had grown or- 
f^wicsaly from his work in the Metal Workshop. There was no 
ftinefcie difference between a fine lamp and a fine piece of sculp- 
$W; *ey we^e botb conceived as carriers of light. Twenty years 
late W0W/S plexiglass and chromium sculptures grew organ- 


ically from the light modulators. The> were debtabilizations of 
designed form. 

"I have come upon a strange rhythmical simultane tty," 
he said in a lecture dealing with the potentialities of plastics as 
sculptural material. "This urge of mine to supersede pigment 
with light has its counterpoint in a drive to dissolve solid volume 
into defined space. When I think of sculpture, I cannot think of 
static mass. Emotionally, sculpture and movement are interde- 
pendent. It seems illogical to invite the spectator to adjust himself 

Fig. 71. Mobile Sculp- 
ture, 1943. Plexiglass and 
chromium rods on steel 


to kinetic painting and then to immobilize him before a carved 
stone or a piece of sculptured plastic." 

In 1943 he had completed his first plexiglass and 
chromium-rod sculpture. Two hea?y planes of perforated plexiglass 
were held together by chromium rods; as the suspended form 
turned, it created a virtual volume of reSected light or it merely 
vibrated as the air around it moted (Figs. 71, 72). It was up to 


Fig 72. Virtual Volume of 
Mobile Sculpture, 1943 

the spectator to animate the sculpture according to his own in- 
tensity. His re-creative pleasure could express itself in a gentle 
twist or a powerful whirl The sculpture of 1943 has two com 
panion pieces, dating from 1945 and 1946 They were the closest 
Moholy came to a kinetic solution Like Cezanne, he knew that 
he was "only the primitive on the way he had chosen," but he 
also knew that his light mobiles bear in themselves the poten 
tialities of a new kaleidoscopic sculpture 

What is a painter's relationship to his public' How 
of a showman must he be to establish contact between his 
and those he wants to influence 9 For Moholy this 
was perhaps less important than for many other painters 
because the integration of his art and his design, 
and teaching, provided contacts and grati- 
by the "studio artist." He loved acclaim and 
as modi as any man, and he was well aware of the 


advantages bought with money: independence, and the good things 
he loved expensive working materials and publications, good 
clothes, hospitality, and good food. But he rarelj promoted his 
art. He had an unconquerable suspicion of art dealers, dating 
back to the crude and dishonest treatment he had received as a 
young painter from two of Berlin's foremost gallery owners. 

Moholy entered his paintings in competitions only 
if he was invited, and he never sought contact with museum 
directors. The one-man shows that came his way in America were 
offered to him without request. They were, at first, a fine, well- 
promoted exhibition in Katharine Kuh's modern gallery in Chi- 
cago in 1939, a survey of his own work and that of his faculty 
in the gallery of Mills College in Oakland in 1940, and a compre- 
hensive show, covering his whole production, \vhich the Con- 
temporary Arts Society sponsored in the Art Museum in Cincinnati 
in 1946. He sold paintings regularly during the last eight )ears 
of his life, but the buyers needed no prodding. They were mainly 
industrialists for whom he worked as a designer, or colleagues 
with whom he shared his educational convictions. He was a 
regular exhibitor with the American Abstract Artists, but his main 
opportunity to show his work was the Museum of Non-Objective 
Painting in New York. 

In 1944 the art dealer Karl Nierendorf, who had been 
the co-editor of the catalogue of the first big Bauhaus Exhibition 
in 1923, came to Chicago with an offer to handle Moholy *s art 
work. After thinking it over for a week, Moholy turned down the 
offer, and, in a letter, explained his reasons. 

October 11, 1944 
Mr. Karl Nierendorf 
53 East 57th Street 
New York City 

I enjoyed oar dinner lasl Sunday fery ch, and I wa quite 
moved by your response to the wwk 1 hate dme lately. Gdl 
knows, this recognition is necessary, tad since It is saefa a 
rare oectiir ence it is doubly enjoyed. 

I have pondered a good deal about your kind oleir to 

my Hew York repK&entati?e, and to handle my work ex- 


clusively; and Sibyl and I have been both very much aware 
of the great advantages such a connection could bring m our 
present situation. 

And yet, I feel that the condition attached to your offer is 
one I cannot meet. I do not want to sever all my connections 
with the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, and I do not 
want to tell them that I won't participate in any further ex- 
hibitions of theirs. 

I am very well aware of the discrimination against me result- 
ing from this connection, and I know that possibly m the long 
run their purchases of my work won't amount to what I might 
make if I had my work handled by you. But there is a con- 
sideration involved which goes far beyond money. 

I had a hard time finding recognition , and it meant more than 
I can ever say when Guggenheim and Rebay 8 bought my first 
painting in 1929. I was proud then, and I knew that I had 
built a bridge across the Atlantic Ocean. When I came to 
this country, I saw their collection, which unfortunately is 
packed away in the Plaza Hotel. And I came to the conclusion 
that this is the most essential, the most far-reaching, collec- 
tion of modern art No other collection here or m Europe can 
approach the complexity and at the same time the fundamental 
singleness of conviction in the Guggenheim selection. I know 
there are many, many paintings neither you nor I would ever 
buy or even look at. But that proves nothing. It cannot 
devaluate the brilliance of the other pieces. 

A few years from now the negative attributes of the Founda- 
tion will be forgotten but the collection will remain. There is 
nothing that could dim my pride and my gratitude for being 
part of it. 

I am sure that you'll understand this attitude, and that it'll be 
possible for us to arrive at some agreement by which you will 
handle some of my work without insisting that I sever my con- 
nections with the Guggenheim Foundation. 

Sibyl joins me in warmest greetings. Cordially yours, 


was no replj from the Nierendorf Gallery, and Moholy 
never had a representative among art dealers. 

8 H*e owner and tiie curator of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. 

If light was the leitmotif of MoholvV art. industrial 
design was the orchestration, providing opportunities for infinite 
variations. Ideas which had been born and developed in the realm 
of nonapplied art were tested and broadened to prove the indi- 
visibility of vision. The three large projects, executed in the last 
four years of his life, denounce more convincingly than lectures 
and books the artificiality of the barrier between "fine" and 
"commercial" art. In Moholy the designer and the painter were 
one, and the elements of his vision were subject to the same laws 
of development and carriers of the same message. 

In 1943 the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad commissioned 
him to design a passenger car which would provide postwar 
standards and compete successfully with the luxuries planned b> 
the passenger airlines. Traveling on day coaches and in Pullmans, 
Moholy developed his suggestions, which had one unifying factor: 
space organization. Through transparent, floating, adjustable 
partitions, through different seat levels, curved walls, and tubular 
light fixtures, the confining narrowness of the train corridor was 
broken. The disappearance of solid wall units, and the use of 
light materials and perforation effects gave a feeling of breadth 
and spaciousness. The accent was on variety, a psychological anti- 
dote for the monotony and boredom of long train trips. Like many 
a postwar dream, the great rejuvenation drive of the American 
railroads bogged down and died, and Mohol>'s train was never 
built. But its design opened an exciting vista into the future where 
the elements of speed and time will be adequately expressed 
through a truly streamlined design. 

Exhibition architecture had been one of Moholy *s 
favorite tasks since the days of the Bauhaus Exhibition in 1923, 
In Europe the opportunities to add new elements to his experience 
had been frequent. But he had been in America eight years before 
he got his first chance to design an exhibition. The United States 
Gypsum Company asked him to create a display at a builders' 
fair in Chicago. There was a minimum of space available aad a 
maximum of material to be shown. Together with Ralph Rapsem, 
who then was head of the Architectural Department of the Insti- 
tute of Design, Moholy WJceetatel OB two elements: light- 
shadow effects, and superimposition. By perforating the narrow 


Fig. 73. Exhibition Stand for 
United States Gypsum Com- 
pany, Chicago, 1945. (In col- 
laboration with Ralph Rap- 

exhibition stall with porthole-like openings, he drew the eyes of 
the spectator away from the narrow front wall; and by using 
depth where breadth was not available he created many space 
units reaching far behind the actual exhibition space. Contrasting 
light effects distinguished the different "stages" from each other. 
Units close to the spectator were darker than those farther away, 
and the sober lettering on the gray front wall attracted attention 
by long shadows (Fig. 73) . 

"There's no task too small, and no project too big, to 
make it a manifesto of incorruptible design," Moholy had told 
&e yoang Dutchmen who had crowded into his exhibition in 
Amsterdam in 1934. In 1944 he got a chance to demonstrate this 
point The Parker Pen Company appointed him as art adviser. 
Il was a working rektionship well suited to Moholy's disposition. 
Once a Haonth he spent two days with the company in Janesville, 
fetwbg to questions and problems ranging from the printing of 
an ink-ijottle label to projects for a new factory building. His 
fondness for people made him a patient and con- 
listener, and his lifelong experience as a teacher had 
taught Mm to formulate advice simply and slowly. The company 


had adapted the therapeutic technique of self-anal\Ms to the 
technical field. Even one \vab invited to diwiKs h^ \*ork problem* 
with Moholy, and it became evident that an hour of formulation 
was worth man) weeks of solitary effort. When Moholv returned 
to Chicago he had absorbed the practical atmosphere in tthich 
his designs \\ere to be realized. Together with his gifted collab- 
orator, Nolan Rhoades, he worked on pens, clips mkslaiid*. 

ig. 74. Desk Set for Parker 51 Pen in Chromium with magnetized ball holder, 

packaging, posters, stationery, and showrooms. Tbse designs 
were as much part of his work as an artist as had been die B. I 0. 
coach or the Gypsum exhibit. Through many years of experimaata- 
tion Moholy had developed a "sense" for pksttts. He knew their 
properties, possibilities, and Emotions. And from the days of 


the Bauhaus Metal Workshop he had retained a working knowl- 
edge of metals and alloys He now combined transparent and 
solid materials, and light and heavy ones, to go into pens and 
accessories. Harmonious lines and the imaginative use of fine 
materials were the sole indicators of high quality. The ostenta- 
tiously rich ornamentation had been dropped. It was a first 
attempt to create a functional luxury trade (Fig. 74). 

With the beginning of 1945 Moholy's personal life 
had reached a level that was deeply satisfying to him. His work as 
a painter and sculptor had progressed toward new solutions 
Vision in Motion had been achieved a "synonym for simul- 
taneity and space-time; a means to comprehend the new dimen- 
sion . . . the projective dynamics of man's visionary faculties." 9 
The six facets of his art were all cut and polished. His design 
work provided a direct and stimulating contact with the practical 
tasks of contemporary society. He felt himself part, not particle, 
of his times. The New Vision was selling well in its third edition, 
and the publication of Vision in Motion was planned for the spring 
of 1946. His income was satisfactory and promised a secure future 
for his children. At the age of fifty, he felt a harmonious balance 
between performance and recognition. In a curious state of dual 
existence, Moholy, the painter, the writer, tbe designer, the man 
of many achievements and influences, was consciously and grate- 
fully happy, while Moholy, the teacher, faced defeat. 

f Vision, in Motion. 



After six years of existence the School of Design 
reached a crossroads. In spite of a minimum budget and the 
impediments of war, it had proved itself as a unique design 
center. The projects carried out in the different workshops \*ere 
shown throughout the country, and graduates were working in 
many schools and industries. It was Monoids singlehanded pub* 
licity campaign that had put his school on the map. He wrote 
from a lecture trip into the Northwest: 

Since we can't afford to advertise, I have to be the advertise- 
ment. If Idaho can grow the best potatoes, there's no reason 
why it shouldn^t grow good future debigners. But the strain 
of this new gospel mission is considerable It'b not the lectures, 
believe me. It's the social exploitation of the lecturer, the cock- 
tails and teas, and dinners and luncheon^. I sometime** feel 
like a ball of knitting wool, thrown from the lap of one matron 
into that of another. 

No college nor club was too small, and no trip too inconvenient. 
He went wherever an opportunity offered to talk about his pro- 
gram. Equipped with kodachromes and photographs, he gave 
lectures on the social, the practical, and the esthetic implications, 
of the Bauhaus approach. If he didn't get paid, he chalked it ufj 
as one more contribution to the school; and if he got an hono- 
rarium it went into more slides and more prints. 

In the spring of 1944, the accumulated evidence of 
the workability of this new design-education intensified the inter- 
est of a group of Chicago businessmen. They proposed to form a 
Board of Directors under the chairmanship of Waller Paepcke, 
In return, Moholy would submit to the customary control of a 
board over the school's finances, publicity, ard the appointiami 
of administrative personnel. To stress tfee progress from a small 
educational laboratory to an institution on a par with colleges 


and universities, the name "School of Design" was to be changed 
to "Institute of Design." Moholy would be relieved of administra- 
tive detail to devote all his energies to teaching and planning, 
and a competent trio of manager, executive secretary, and ac- 
countant would direct noneducational matters. It was a decision 
of great consequence for his lifework. 

Moholy's reaction was strangely divided. He no longer 
had the optimistic belief that each businessman is a potential 
student, a belief which had made him sign a contract with the 
Association of Arts and Industries six years earlier. He knew that 
his educational plan had to succeed in spite of public opinion, not 
because of it. But he had acquired respect for the willingness 
with which men of capital and civic influence served orchestras, 
theaters, universities, and philanthropic organizations. It pleased 
him that in the midst of a war and a feverish boom his idea 
carried enough weight to merit attention and support. It was part 
of Moholy's philosophy of total involvement that he accepted 
businessmen as readily as artists. They were functioning elements 
in the totality of contemporary life. But, though he understood 
their place in society, he questioned many of their motivations. 

The success theory of the profit economy pays a high premium 
to the anti-artist. Artists are considered effeminates who do 
not have the stamina to participate in economic competition. 
This is very tragic, since art is the only field where convention 
does not completely impair sentiment, and where the omnip- 
otence of thought and independence of emotion are kept 
relatively intact. No society can exist without expressing its 
ideas, and no culture and no ethics will survive without par- 
ticipation of the artist who cannot be bribed. . . . The silly 
myth that the genius has to suffer in order to give his best is 
the sly excuse of a society which does not care for its pro- 
ductive members, except if immediate technological or economic 
applications with promising profits are in sight. 1 

The inner conflict resulting from this critical insight, 
and his need for outside support to carry through his program, 
was expressed in two letters, dated April 23 and 26, 1944: 

for the retrospective exhibition sponsored by the Contem 
Arts Society at the Art Museum in Cincinnati, February, 1946 
f private pouting). 



I slipped out of Washington as quickly a^ I could and I am 

now on the tram to New York. I spent tivo dav** *uth H.1X 

the key man of government research who, in peace time, is 

president of a technological college in New Jersey Thin ex- 

perience has intensified my dual reaction t the 

in Chicago 2 

This man in Washington is so typical of the "enlightened" 
businessman, but oh so far from the humbleness of real in- 
sight. Progress, m his terms, means increased efficiency, and 
success is an upward trend m figures. He ha^ never learned 
to think in human proportions. His reaction to my detailed 
suggestions as to the u-^e of the infrared oven, the w<nKl-Hpnng, 
the rehabilitation textbook, and the mass-housing research. 
was a barrage of impatient questions: "How much time will 
it take''' How much will it cost? How large is your endow- 
ment? How many square feet of laboratory space?" He didn't 
contemplate for a moment the actual worth of our ideas, or 
inquire about the qualifications of the men involved in thK 
research. The smallness of our school made him squirm, and 
he angrily hit a stack of files and said that he could have the 
help of institutions ranging in endowment anywhere from 
four to forty million. In the end he dropped all pretense of 
politeness and told me that the government wasn't interested 
in lending its prestige to a peanut affair 

It was this peculiar expression that linked this interview with 
the school situation in Chicago. How often have I been told 
by the Board that I have to make up my mind whether L 
want to head my own peanut affair or an institution thai 
counts. "What a strange insecurity that measure** the importance 
of an idea in square feet of occupied floor space, and the 
number of personnel. . . . 

Leger and I reminisced today over a bottle of Rose about that 
nightmarish dinner in the Arts Club [OB the occasion of the 
Container Corporation Poster Exhibit]. Leger imitated the 
speaker who was a poll-taker for advertising agencies and wii 
reported so proudly how the designs #f Mc^re, Helkm, Kepes, 
Bayer, Leger rank by plus and minus points against the out- 
put of the commercial studios. We felt both ashamed m a 
strange sort of way that none of us had protested sa?e under 
our breaths. I guess art directors bey artists to advertise 
advertising, and to camouflage tbe inedtocre quality of the 

2 In March, 1944, the new Board of Directors tet keen organized. 


anonymous designs. The provocative statement of modern art 
is constantly annulled by checkbook and cocktail party Am 
I on the same way? 

Darling, darling, let's hold on to what was built during the 
last years, . . ." 

But the choice was between existence or liquidation. 
The school needed a moratorium in which to survive the war 
emergency without losing identity. Moholy hoped that the prestige 
and the contributions of the Board would sustain the school ac- 
cording to its original concept. 

In contrast to the Association of Arts and Industries, 
some of the new Board members lived up to the obligation as- 
sumed. Both their financial help and the time given for money- 
raising campaigns were considerable. Without their support, the 
Bauhaus idea would have foundered a second time in this coun- 
try. But the transition from "peanut affair" to "institute" was slow, 
much too slow for businessmen who think in terms of figures and 
who know nothing about the slow growth of ideas. 

"The genuine businessman is actually quite a roman- 
tic," Moholy once said wistfully after a conference. "He's the 
dreamer and I'm the realist. He still thinks in terms of Horatio 
Alger stories and the fast and fabulous successes that'll make the 
financial page. I try to tell him that genuine success is measured 
in intellectual influence that can be achieved, not in a lifetime, 
but in the lifetime of generations." 

The whole dilemma of endowed education centered 
around the Dimple fact that a school is not a business, that it 
operates according to different psychological and economic laws. 
Each board meeting was a gentlemanly battle between economic 
and pedagogic motivations. Seen in the perspective of a whole 
resting its higher education on the hostile union between 
and trustee, the expenditure in effort and nervous tension 
seemed absurd. The business managers of the reorganized Insti- 
tale of Design, who were hired by the Board from commercial 
employment agencies, were an uninterrupted sequence of failures 
Ixseamse dbeir "nonaducational" approach was a fallacy. If they 
to succeed, they would have to become obsessed with the 
importance of the school's program. The methods they 


had employed successfully in selling uhiskev or drug products 
didn't work with art education. Their pathetic attempts U> <*tab 
lish a "normal business routine" in a design laboratory run bv 
imaginative and individualistic personalities \vere doomed to 
failure. Moholy's highly successful publicity campaign bogged 
down and petered out the moment a publicity agent took over. 
Whereas Moholy had tried to sell the prospective donor a stake 
in a future world, the professional money-raiser tried to sell an 
income tax deduction. In a naive transference of prestige standards, 
business executives accused him of an incurable "janitor men- 
tality" because the preservation of tools and materials, the clean- 
ness of the premises and accommodations for the students were 
for him intrinsic elements of the school program. 

Moholy was increasingly aware of the abysmal differ- 
ence in basic principle between him and his Board. For more 
than a year he steered his school on a precarious course between 
what he called a board mentality and his own integrity. 

"There's a symbolic meaning in those chocolate- 
covered filberts Moholy brings to every board meeting," Crombie 
Taylor, the young Executive Secretary of the Institute, once told 
me. "They're typical of his attitude. He has a hundred different 
ways of coating a tough problem, and they're all sweet and tasty. 
But once the coating is removed, there's nothing but solid hard 
nut. I've never seen him give in at the kernel of a problem." 

When in the spring of 1945 the enrollment was still 
below one hundred and no immediately saleable products had 
been turned out by the workshops, much of the initial interest of 
the Board members faded. Established academic art schools started 
to profit visibly from the rising stream of returning war veterans. 
Why didn't the Institute of Design? Where were the famous 
European names who had been linked with the original Rat&aus 
and who were now in this country? Why didn't they join the 
faculty of the Institute, attracting students by their prestige? And 
where were the short-term courses that would give men who had 
lost years in the Service a chance to acquire skills quickly? 

These demands were met by Moholy with a deacBy 

"Our curriculum doesn't it into the competitive BM>od 


of an approaching postwar boom, because we refuse to piomise a 
two-semester training for a breadwinning job. And we won't give 
a thought to fashionable trends in design unless they're sound 
and functional. Visual fundamentals aie a slow-acting ferment. 
They have to be absorbed and applied in a hundred different ways 
before they produce an integrated vision and mature results. I 
shall keep on considering the process of education more important 
than the finished result." 3 

And to the taunting inquiries as to why his former 
associates from the German Bauhaus did not join his school, 
Moholy replied with a statement that later was supplemented in 
a letter, dated May 11, 1945. 

I'll tell you why recognized artists and designers dislike teach- 
ing: they find too little compensation for the great effort 
involved. If they are to resign themselves to the small income 
paid to teachers, they should at least have the freedom of 
their convictions. They can work for the industry and be paid 
decently. In an endowed school they still work for the industry 
which controls the board The only difference is that there's 
less pay and more interference 

But there's another problem involved, less general and more 
deadly to us. Creative people don't seem to thrive in the 
Chicago atmosphere. Scores of them have come with high 
hopes over the last fifty years, and all of them have left 
again. . . . The enthusiastic support given to new projects, new 
ideas, dies too quickly. There's no stamina, because there are 
no convictions. 

When the dissatisfaction of the directors with the 
slow progress of the Institute of Design finally climaxed in a 
blunt request that the school be discontinued, Moholy remained 

* 4 I won't close the Institute," he replied to the Chair- 
man of the Board, "because I know that my program is good. It 
will serve American youth when they have recovered from the 
hasty postwar adjustments. They'll be a minority, I know, but 
they'll be those who value creative integration above quick skills 
and a fast-earning job. The Institute is the only place where a 
young man can train his brains, his hands, and his emotional 
3 From a lecture given on May 20, 1945, m Milwaukee. Wisconsin. 


sensibilities without intimidation of his ethics. \^hen he leaver the 
school his contribution will be proportionate to the time sj*nt. 
If you drop the chairmanship, I shall still go un. I ha\e done it 
before, and I shall again plow e\er\ penm from rm industrial 
designing that I can spare back into the school. There are too 
many young men waiting to come back once the> are released 
from the Army." 

And they came back. Within one vear the davtime 
enrollment jumped from 92 to 366 students, and the income from 
tuition fees totaled $40,000. It was the justification for which 
Moholy had hoped, and it cominced the Board of Directors. 
They remained faithful to the Institute of Design. 

But the battle had only begun. The school building 
on Ontario Street was sold, and a half-forgotten clause that the 
premises would have to be vacated within sixty da\s became 
effective. Amidst the sudden scramble for housing following V-E 
Day, the Institute had to find new quarters. There was no choice 
but to sign an unfavorable lease for a second floor on North 
State Street. While classes grew by the week and new administra- 
tive personnel had to be broken in, bricklayers and carpenters 
transformed a former night club into a school. The unsuitahilit) of 
the building and the pressure of time raised expenses to high 
figures. The only way to cover the conversion costs was to accept 
more and more students. The leisurely pleasure of working with 
a select group of graduates during the summer was a thing of 
the past. Under the GI training program a full semester had to be 
wedged between spring and fall. Teachers were still scarce in 1945. 
Moholy taught twenty-two hours a week all during the summer, 
using evenings and nights for his money-earning design work 
and for painting. On Sundays he came out to the farmhouse in 
Somonauk and wrote on his manuscript for Vision in Motwn. 

Since 1943 he had assembled material for a book th&t 
would record the fermentation and transfiguration of the Bauhaws 
idea in a new era and a different civilization. TTie tinae for co- 
ordination and formulation was always lacking, but be had man- 
aged to put down a rough draft during the winter of 1944. In 
the spring of 1945 the Rockefeller Foundation granted him $5,000, 
"to study the place of arts in liberal education." It was a generous 


gesture of the Foundation's Humanities Division to offer a grant 
that carried with it no other obligation than the completion of 
Vision in Motion. When Moholy received the news he was de- 

"I'll hire an assistant director for the Institute," he 
said. "He'll take over half of my obligations, and I'll have two 
or three days a week to finish the book." 

But the assistant director somehow did not take to the 
job and seemed unable to grasp the specific problems of the 
school. He soon stopped trying, and Moholy had to attend to 
administration detail as before. Weekends remained the only 
writing time. 

Verbal formulation didn't come to him easily, and 
some of the chapters were rewritten more than a dozen times 

"I'll never write another book," Moholy vowed. "It's 
an unbearable temptation, to sit next to brushes, paint, and canvas, 
and have to keep a pencil in one's hand. How I thrive on seeing, 
and how this whole delight withers when I have to translate it 
into words. This book is the greatest sacrifice I have ever made 
for my students. It is a kind of visual testament, something they 
can go by when I'm dead." 

It was one of the frequent references to death that 
appeared in Moholy's conversation toward the end of that hot and 
frantic summer. They startled me because he had seemed so de- 
termined to ignore the threat of the advancing years. His child- 
hood among old women on his grandmother's farm had made 
him intolerant of age. He shunned the company of old people. 

"Age is fiction," he told me on his fiftieth birthday 
in July, 1945. "I shall remain as I have always been." 

But in the late autumn a growing melancholy started 
to influence his motions and his speech. It didn't show in public 
He put on his cheerful smile like a mask as soon as he left his 
Iiome. But at night he would sit in his chair without working, 
stajri&g vacantly into space, or speaking in short, labored sen- 
tences. His appetite lagged, and the Sunday morning romps in the 
fwrk wlti tEe children became to him exhausting walks. When 
die iafl semester enrollment listed eight hundred day and night 
stofcits, he did not smile. 


"If only we didn't have to at-i ept them," he mid. 
"They don't know it, but the> strangle each other's minds. HOH 
can one co-ordinate such a throng?" And with a wistful reference 
to past decisions he added, ''It's no longer a peanut affair, but a 
multitude of peanuts." 

He refused to see a doctor, in spite of nervous skin 
disorders and frequent dizzy spells. 

"A doctor who's worth his monev will laugh at rne," he 
insisted. "When I tell him what I've worked during the last eight 
years he'll either tell me to go and get a good rest or examine my 
head. I'm just tired incredibly tired.'* 

In November of that year he collapsed. 4s he lav on 
the couch, struggling for breath, with severe pain in his left side 
and black spots before his ev,es, we were certain he had had a 
heart attack. A day later we knew that he had leukemia. 

In a family where no one had ever been sirk, the 
seriousness of the diagnosis didn't sink in at first. 

"I feel like one of those rare babies who get a Christ- 
mas tree in July," Moholy joked as we waited for the doctor's 
car, which would take him to the hospital <fc lf I didn't feel so 
rotten I'd send my picture to the newspaper." 

The idea of being nursed by a pretty >oung woman 
roused him to a vigorous protest. 

"Fd rather die than undress with one of those flippant 
young ladies around," he insisted, and it was decided that he'd 
go to a hospital run by a Catholic order and staffed exclusively 
by men. 

The first diagnosis showed such an increase in white 
blood cells and such a deterioration of the spleen that his immi- 
nent death was hinted. But the Brothers had never seen a dying 
man of such vitality. While blood and glucose drained into his 
arm, and one doctor after another examined him s he sketched 
versions of his bed with one hand. The many parts of this con- 
traption screws, bolts, boards, and bars delighted him. During 
the third night of his absence from home the telephone rang. 

"The professor wants crajoas and sketching paper," a 
bewildered Brother told me. "And he wants Am rig** away," 


Fig. 75. Hospital Bed, No- 
vember 1945. Sketch in pen- 
cil and crayon. 

"It's past eleven o'clock," I said. "Tell him I'll bring 
it first thing tomorrow morning." 

But I hadn't counted with Moholy. The next ring was 
directly from his bed. 

"I won't have another transfusion for forty-eight 
hours. If you don't bring what I want, I'll send one of these 
friars to scour the town for crayons." 

He did a series of abstractions of a hospital bed that 
night, the visual hold of a painter on a world he didn't want to 
leave (Fig. 75). 

As soon as the transfusions were over he decided to 
select the illustrations for Vision in Motion For two weeks I 
carried a collection of sixteen portfolios into the hospital which 
fe bad filled with clippings and photographs and sketches. At 
fest I W<! each piece before his eyes. Later when he could sit up 
1 arranged a sequence on his bedspread. Suddenly he remembered 
anotlier ifestratioji, originally meant for a different chapter or a 
book, Tfeen would start a frantic search which often ex- 
to school files or the many drawers at home in which he 

had collected teaching material. There was no letup until the piece 
was found, discussed, and discarded or accepted. Injections blood 
counts, medications \vere secondary to this aetivit). Mohoh en- 
dured them as bothersome interruptions of his \vork. 

After three weeks in the hospital he came home. His 
blood count had hardly improved, he had great difficult) in talk- 
ing and breathing, and his appetite remained poor. But his spirit 
had reached a high pitch of determination. He had faced death, 
and every ounce of his energy, every thought, and the entire 
emotional power of his heart, were concentrated on Ihing. He 
received ten successive X-ray treatments which were an agonizing 
experience. His system revolted against the effects of the radiation. 
He became sick after each treatment, and his body trembled for 
hours. But his blood count improved rapidly. The white cells 
reduced to normal, his spleen contracted, and four \\eeks after 
the last treatment his health picture was normal. By Christmas he 
was safe, and in an overflowing emotion of infinite gratitude he 
painted a large canvas, "Leu I, 1945." 4 He wrote in a note, at- 
tached to the gray canvas, "Ch XIV, 1939," for *hich I had 
asked as a present: 

This is a wonderful Christmas. It is the most wonderful Christ- 
mas I have ever had. Thank you for loving me, nursing me, 
being a mother, a friend, a wonderful cook. Now I know what 
life really is. I hold it all in my hands space, color, light. I 
have never been so clear with my eyes, my thoughts, my feel- 
ing. I am so grateful. 

At the beginning of January, 1946, he went back to the Institute. 
His illness had had a curious effect on the faculty and 
the Board of Directors. Men who had done their work in a spirit 
of necessity suddenly did miracles. The office force, the janitors, 
and all the teachers doubled their efforts. In spite of the half- 
finished building and a curriculum that was poorly fitted for mass 
education, the students did what Moholy had always urged them 
to do: they gave their best. When he came back after an absence 
of eight weeks, the remodeling had been completed. The student 
work was on a level of creativeness and aecompEsknent reimms- 
cent of the best results achieved under Mofaoly's direct supervision. 

* The New Vision and Abstract of an Artist, P- 85. 


North Side in search of a building. It was a strenuous and depress- 
ing job. The postwar expansion had pushed commercial rents 
beyond control, and fire, police, and safety restrictions narrowed 
the choice considerably. When the deadline for leaving North 
State Street was less than two months away, a contract was signed 
with the Historical Society to purchase their old building on Dear- 
born Street for a reasonable sum. The Board rose to the occasion 
and donated $20,000 as a down payment. The future of the 
Institute of Design was once more assured. 

But the effort showed in Moholy's health. Unnoticed 
by anyone else, and vigorously denied by his doctors, the earlier 
symptoms of his illness returned The radia*nt optimism that had 
carried him through the winter faded. He became highly irritable 
and reproachful at home, and there were new undertones of hope- 
lessness in his complaints. His blood count was still close to 
normal, and the specialist was sarcastic about my anxiety My 
diagnosis was more psychological than physiological; to rate the 
mere fact that Moholy suddenly agreed to a prolonged stay in 
the country as an alarming symptom must have seemed ridiculous 
to anyone who didn't know Moholy as I did. In June we moved 
into our farmhouse near Somonauk. 

But in spite of his admitted need for rest he didn't 
know how to live during a vacation. It was too late for him to 
learn the conventional meaning of the term. The work for the 
Parker Pen Company continued, and we drove frequently to 
Janesville where he had long conferences with directors and em- 
ployes. I was worried about the strain involved, but Moholy 
enjoyed It. He could not live without teaching, and the young 
designers replaced his students. On week ends there were many 
visitors, teachers, former students, friends from the East and 
West Coast who stayed over night, and the finishing touches 
were put on the manuscript of Vision in Motion whose completion 
had been delayed by his illness. 

Twice a month he went to Chicago to see the doctor, 
t0 supervise the remodeling of the new school building on Dear- 
bora Street, and to meet with a group of young architects and 
towu^plairaers. Harry Weese,,who was the moving spirit of this 
has described Moholy's influence upon them. 

In March, 1946, Moholy had Charles Wilev and me at the 
Tavern Club for luncheon. He a^ked us whether we had a 
sort of Professional Five Year Plan. He prefaced this question 
with a cogent statement on the necessity for principle and 
direction in architecture, showing a warm optimistic interest 
in the possibility that our plans might have progressive impli- 
cations. Out of this meeting grew the City Planning Group. 
It became Moholy 's instrument in doing something about the 
projects submitted to the Better Chicago Contest, sponsored 
by the Herald American. 

He was dissatisfied with the insincere handling of the efforts 
of many good men in this contest, and the way significant 
ideas had been treated by reactionary judges. He had with- 
drawn his own name from the jury because he felt that the 
winning solution could not compare to another one of high 
imagination which involved an outer Lakeshore Drive on a 
continuous dike, forming large bathing lagoons and removing 
traffic from residential areas. He also thought highly of Ralph 
Rapson's suggestion of artificial islands for new housing. 

Moholy liked the character of a giant centralized city in con- 
trast to a romanticized garden city. But he found many sug- 
gestions to humanize it. The idea of a centralized industrial 
area toward the west in a strip plan found favor with him 
because it secured the lake border for housing. 

The central goal of our group under Moholy's guidance was to 
take an architect's and planner's stand on ^uch problems as 
the unhealthy emphasis on single-family dwellings and forced 
individual ownership, the lack of building control necessary to 
prevent future slums, the migration away from established 
communities to the suburbs, and many others. 

Moholy took these meetings seriously. 

"If I let them down, how are they ever to make sac- 
rifices for the community/' he asked me once when I objected to 
a trip into town on an oppressively riot day; and to his friend 
Giedion, who had canceled a promised series of lectures during 
the summer session of the Institute, he wrote: 

Of course I understand your difficulties; but Bay fot tf**mgl*t 
was that all of us have great difficulties nc! yet we have to 4 
what is expected. 


Fig. 76. Nine action photographs of Moholy-Nagy during the Photo 
Seminar session in July, 1946. 

After six weeks of this sort of vacation he went to 
town for another conference. He looked appallingly ill when I 
took him to the station, but he rebuked me sharply for my concern. 

"Fve done what you wanted; I have moved out here, 
This is more than anyone else at the school can afford. Don't 
destroy my good will toward this arrangement by overanxiousness. 
This is a hot day, and I don't like heat." 

A few hours later the doctor called me. Moholy's blood 
count had deteriorated catastrophically. The X-ray treatments had 
to be repeated immediately. 

When I arrived in town, Moholy was busy in his 
office dictating letters, making telephone calls, looking at building 
blueprints, and selecting plastics for pens and inkstands. On our 
way to the clinic where the X-ray treatments were given, he showed 
me the program for a series of lectures on photography he planned 
to give the following week during a special seminar for photog- 
raphers at the Institute. 

"But you had told me you'd cancel these lectures," I 
protested. "You told me in the country that you'd ask Siegel and 
Newhall to take your place." 

"That was weeks ago when I didn't feel so good," 
Moholy shrugged. "Now that I'm going to have more X ray I'll 
get well fast. It would be a waste of time to be in the city anyhow 
and not use the time for teaching." 

For a nightmarish week Moholy went early in the morn- 
ing for Ms X-ray treatments, which upset his system as much as 
the first time. Between ten and five he lay in a dark room covered 
with ice packs, recovering from the shock. At six o'clock he started 
life lecture followed by a seminar or a discussion; and it was 
natiaB? past ten o'clock before we got home. I sat in the first row, 
reacfy to take Mm home if he should collapse, but he always made 

it alone except for the three flights of stairs to our apartment. 
They became the crowning ordeal of the day. The special photo- 
graphic session was a brilliant success, and early in August we 
returned to the country (Fig. 76). 

But Moholy was a changed man. The very fact of a 
relapse, after he had been so sure of a complete cure, had produced 
a mental shock much deeper than his first realization of death. 
We never talked about his health, and the word leukemia, \\hich 
we had bandied around so lightheartedl) in the beginning, became 
taboo. The shadow had grown too big. Moholy could no longer 
look up and face it. His stunned soul expressed itself in a wordless 
affection and a frantic immersion in artistic creation. It was as 
if he sought a deeper order below the surface of his destroyed 
equilibrium. The inexpressible could only be revealed in new 
plastic forms. It was with the impact of illness and the anticipation 
of defeat that Moholy's work admitted for the first time an 
emotional symbolism. 

The dropping of the first atomic bomb on Japan had 
made a profound impression on him. Although he usually stayed 
aloof from political events, he felt a personal concern. For months 
he lived through an intense inner struggle, weighing the official 
claim of a shortening of the war against the implications of an 
amoral precedent. In spite of the scope of his work and his failing 
health, he read through the complete Smyths Report, anxious to 
grasp the potentialities of nuclear fission for contractive w& 
While in the hospital in November, he cut circles from pad- 
ing paper, shading the surface with crayon, Hiai he w<mM 
tear a circle into small pieces, arranging the scraps m a large 
cardboard disk. His first canvas after be was up again was tfec 
large "Nuclear Bubble." Immediately following it, fee pit this 
nuclear monster into a structural rdblioi^liip to sum's eadslwee. 


7. tWeor 1,1946.01100 canvas. 

"Nuclear II, 1946" is essential!) a commentarv on the first version. 
The fearful void of the bubble is emphasized bv Indecent folor 
variations around its rim, extinguishing \\ith their ricacil) bril- 
liance man's rational, orderly pattern of streets and ritv block* 
(Fig. 77). 

Of the two dozen water colors \\hidh Moholj did 
during the six weeks he remained in the counlrj, some *ere sun- 
bolic. There were several interpretations of Bela Bartok's "Dian 
of a Fly." Others showed an abstracted pattern of roads and foot- 
paths between fields and swamps, and a charming ephemeral 
reminiscence of fish in the clear water of the pool. But bevond 
these interpretations of a world he loved, it was as if he relived 
his whole development as a painter. There were line-form organ- 
izations similar to his early collages, and the severe arch and 
segment compositions of his first independent canvases. Line again 
became important in itself, swinging, crossing, merging, as it had 
in the dark war landscapes of his first sketches. With infinite 
patience he created a rich pattern of finest hairlines, ranging from 
light gray to deep black, centering around white cores. (Fig. 78 1. 
He felt sick from the strain on his eves after the two large ink 
drawings were completed, but he wouldn't rest, \her line his 
obsession now was color a stronger, gaver, purer color than he 
had ever dared before. There were wide radiant areas in unmixed 
primaries, or delicate superimpositions like those he had done 
during the Bauhaus years. Yellow and black appeared in many 
combinations, and there was a predominance of purple, graded 
from a delicate rose color to a dense violet. Some p6)chktrisis 
claim that an increased use of purple in the work of an artist 
indicates a subconscious death anticipation. Moholy knew nothing 
of this theory, but purple and a contrapuntal variation of greens 
are predominant among the rich production of August, 1946 (Fig. 


At the beginning of September, this intense period of 
painting came suddenly to an end. Without an explanation Moholy 
put his casein colors in their cardboard boxes wfakh fee labeled 
carefully. He cleaned the dozens of brushes he had used and dried 
them in the sun. The water colors were pit into large portfolio, 
and the sketches into file folders. The next morning wtet Ae 


Fig. 78. Ink in Motion, 1946. India ink drawing on illustration board. 

kitchen porch showed no longer any trace of the quantity of work 
produced there, Moholy went to the workshop and started to work 
with wire. With pliers and metal shears he formed a wire construc- 
tion which he accentuated with bright yellow paint and a solid 
form of plastic. After four days the "Wire Outdoor Sculpture" 
was ready to be mounted. There were some high oak poles on the 
bade lawn which had once served as laundry poles; time and 
weather had aged the wood to a deep bronze. On top of one of them 
Moholy mounted his wire form. The effort to lift the construction 
and hold it in place while I drove the iron clamps into the wood 
was too much for him. He became violently sick and had to lie 
down on the grass. But as the dizziness passed, he climbed the 
stejpladder again. The sun was setting with a red glow when he 
stepped <Jown, and he smiled with infinite happiness as he watched 
the golden reflections on the plexiglass form. 5 

*Tve added this to my place/' he said. "It'll remain 

* The New Vision and Abstract of cm Artist, p. 87. 

Fig, 79. Purple Water Color, 1946. 

here, just like my trees," and he looked affectionate!) o\er half 
a dozen Chinese elms he had planted eight \ears ago and which 
had thrived magnificently under his care. 

For days he was too weak to work. He lay on the 
ground, unwilling to use a long chair \vhen he could feel the earth 
under his back. He watched the changing cloud formations in day- 
time and the stars at night. All his assertiveness was gone. He 
needed love as a tired child does. He remembered things far back 
in his life songs the shepherd had sung on the plains of the 
river Drava, stories the old coachman had told, and poetr) he 
had written forty years ago. He wanted to hear German folk 
songs which I had sung when our children were small, and he 
asked me to recite Heinrich Heine's 

Denk ich an Deutschland in der Nacht 
so bin ich um den Schlaj gebracht 


Ich hatte einst em schones Vaterland. . . . 

He spoke of Germany with infinite sadness and affec- 
tion. His bitterness was gone. He only remembered what Germany 
had given him. He read Voltaire's Candide again, and \*e spoke 
of religion and the freedom of the spirit. 

"If atheism means the supreme self-reliance of man, 
I certainly am an atheist. My instinct as a social being has been 
quite sufficient to make me morally conscious and responsible. 
But if religion means devotion to the spiritual in man, I do 

And spinning the thought over many days, he concluded one 
night : 

"I do believe that man can make hiinsdf independent 
of his biological limitations. His spiritual force can surpass the 
mere process of changing food into energy. 1 have discovered 
lately that I am stronger than my body." 

Later I read Carr's Baktmin bk^girapiiy to him. 
child, the barbarian, the scholar'* delighted Moholy. He 
enced his own bitter insights after the oosuce^fcil Hungarian 
Revolution in Bakunin's words: 


A revolution must be social, not political. I believe that we can 
reach this goal by the development and organization of the 
non-political, social, and therefore anti-political power of the 
masses in town and country. 

And to his friend Carola Giedion-Welcker, Moholy wrote 

I love him because he was a man without compromise His 
faith m the self-determining dignity of the individual was so 
outrageous that he had to live it every minute of his life to 
prove it to himself. In a totally dark world he had only himself 
to burn up as a guiding flare 

On the fifteenth of September. 1946, we had to return 
to Chicago. 

"Let me take down the wire sculpture and store it in 
the house," I said as we stood for the last time in the yard. "The 
winds are ferocious out here, and the ram and snow will rum it." 

Moholy shook his head "It is meant to be an outdooi 
sculpture. The impact of the weather will add to its form I want 
to see next spring what has become of it " 

Our eyes met, and I realized that he knew his fate He 
returned into the house. It was the only time that he broke down 
and cried. 

The Institute of Design moved to Dearborn Street 
amidst falling plaster, splintering beams, and obstructive scaffold- 
ing. With frozen smiles and labored cheerfulness Moholy, with his 
staff, faced hundreds of freshman students and those Board 
members who had suddenly discovered within themselves untold 
architectural abilities. They took over the plans for the remodel- 
ing of the building, insisting on a prestige policy in locating 
executive offices and reception desks that would have done full 
Justice to a manufacturing concern. For a school to have to fight 
for abundant workshop and classroom space was an uncalled-for 
complication. The cost of this remodeling scheme was so stagger- 
ing that anyone who applied had to be accepted as a student. With 
an etirolnseiit of one thousand day and night students, the Insti- 
tute finally looked like a "normal" school But Moholy knew that 

f l* H. Carr, Michael Bakumn (London. 1937). 


he'd lose his lifetime fight if he could not tame this throng w ith a 
mature and creative facult) He went to ?sew York to look for the 
best men in the design field, but on October 4, 1916, he wrote: 

The postwar boom is even more noticeable here than in 
Chicago Anyone who can do a^ much a^ hold a pencil tries 
to cut himself some bacon. Z \vho couldn't hu\ a pint of 
whiskey a year ago now gets two hundred a >veek making clay 
models for motor cars, and even P. designs radio ca**ing>. 
Teaching? They just laughed at me. 

The teachers who carried the curriculum into the fall 
term of 1946 were formei students who had graduated before or 
during the war years. They were devoted and serious, but Moholv 
was worried about their lack of experience and maturity 

"We should have a faculty seminar each month," he 
said as we returned from a faculty meeting. * 4 To mull over all that 
comes to our minds, as we've been used to doing, is fine. But it 
isn't enough any longer. If we could get together for a da> or 
two every othei month or so, they'd learn to be more than just 

And in a burst of optimism he added: 

"Mark it down on the calendar: December 26 and 27. 
That's when I'll give the first facult} workshop." 

But deep within himself he knew that it wasn't lack 
of faculty training but sheer numerical load that crushed the spirit 

of the Institute. 

"There's a strange contradiction in number," he said 
once as we stood on the second-floor landing, looking donn at the 
milling crowd in the lobby. "Young people work better in crowds. 
They hate solitude, or conspicuous single effort. Yet they crave 
attention, and they fret if you don't know their first name. I wanted 
a big school eventually, and I dreamed of our own campus. But 
it should have been an organic growth as in a family where each 
arrival has his gestation period. I knew it would take a lifetime 
or perhaps more. If only they had been patient with our UB* 
nificance just for another five or ten years w 

It was only in his night class for painters, md m a 
seminar with the oldest students, ** ha i eh * *. With a 


desperate determination he clung to these groups as the justifica- 
tion of all his efforts. 

The preparations for the publishing of Vision in 
Motion had been infinitely slow. Now the first galley proofs had 
come, but Moholy felt that the introduction needed a new emphasis. 
In two nights of intense concentration he wrote: 

One of the functions of the artist in society is to put layer 
upon layer, stone upon stone, in the organization of emotions; 
to record feelings with his particular means, to give structure 
and refinement as well as direction to the inner life of his 

It is the artist's duty today to penetrate yet unseen ranges of 
the biological functions, to search the new dimensions of the 
industrial society, and to translate the new findings into emo- 
tional orientation. The artist unconsciously disentangles the 
most essential strands of existence from the contorting and 
chaotic complexities of actuality and weaves them into an 
emotional fabric of compelling validity, characteristic of him- 
self as well as of his epoch. 

This ability of selection is an outstanding gift based upon 
intuitive power and insight, upon judgment and knowledge 
and upon inner responsibility to fundamental biological anc 
social laws which provoke a reinterpr elation in every civiliza 

"I couldn't have written this a few years back/' he 
said, when he felt the formulation was satisfactory. "I saw in 
emotion only a precious individual barrier against the group Now 
I know differently. Perhaps because I was a teacher so long I came 
to see emotion as the great adhesive, the ray that goes out to 
warm, and the response that comes back and confirms." 

And to the first chapter of Vision in Motion he added: 

By concentrating insight, passion and stamina we may recover 
tlte aeglected fundamentals. Our generation must accept the 
challenge to reinvestigate the elements of healthy living so that 
they can be used as yardsticks to clarify conditions around 
as. By integrating this newly gained knowledge with the exist- 
ing social dynamics we could direct our steps toward a harmony 
of individual and social needs. 


Now all the writing was done. The water colors and 
drawings from the summer were put away like an intimate diary. 
In our living room stood two heavy plexiglass sheets, a full inch 
thick and flawless and reflective like clear water. 

On October 29 it was my birthday Mohol) came 
home late from a Board meeting. We had waited with dinner be- 
cause of the special date. The children had put candles on the table, 
a garland of tiny fall asters surrounded my plate, and we had in- 
tricate doilies made of colored tissue paper under our glasses. 
Moholy had never remembered any of our birthdays. But in 1946 it 
was different. He had bought a lovely fox jacket which he now put 
around my shoulders. It was the first actual birthday present he 
gave me, and it shook me to the core. It indicated a concern and 
tenderness that was frightening. I fought my tears all through 
dinner, and when I finally dared to look at Moholy I knew that 
he understood. That night he marked the plexiglass with an en- 
graver's tool. Swooping down on it almost like a bird, he outlined 
a large area with a deeply incised line which then was subdivided 
by two central cuts. Within a few minutes the form of "Double 
Loop" (Fig. 80) had been determined. 

For half an hour he rested on the couch. He seemed 
asleep and I tried to cover him with a robe. But he waved me away 
and got up. This time he engraved two identical forms on the 
plexiglass sheet, two oblong "fish forms" which had appeared in 
his first kinetic sculpture of 1943. No correction was possible; the 
mark of the needle was final. Slowly Moholy aimed his tool, hesi- 
tated, contemplated, made a new attempt, until the actual incision 
was made. Exhausted, he finally got up from the floor, arid with 
a tired relaxed smile he went to bed. At one o'clock he got up and 
returned to the living room. Next morning I saw that he had 
outlined a third form. I hoped he would sleep, now that the creative 
tension had been released, but he was up at seven, talcing to fab 
Hungarian carpenter. 

Kalman Toman was a wonderful fellow, He came from 
Hungarian peasant stock, a short stout man who in his late sixties 
retained a radiantly youthful complexion ml m miMatigabk 
capability for work. Moholy loved Mm and felt happy and relaxed 
in his company. It was Kalman who had TO* the fanohoe to 


Fig. 80. Double Loop, 1946. Plexiglass sculpture on black formica base, 

place we loved. For years he had spent his week ends in the countn , 
building porches and workshops, furniture and roads. Each fall 
he and Moholy got together for the old European ritual of 
making "caposta" shredding cabbage into wooden barrels for 
future sauerkraut. I could not enter into their conversation, but 1 
loved to hear their roaring laughter when they told each other 
the primitive jokes of peasants and soldiers, or whistled to each 
other the tunes of their young days. Kalman made Mohol) % s picture 
frames and the backgrounds for the light modulators; he fashioned 
bases for sculptures, and he was the only person to whom Moholv 
would entrust the delicate business of cutting out the sculptures 
from the plexiglass sheets. Moholy, who had long since decided 
on the final cuts, would bend ever> effort to make his friend feel 
his appreciation. 

"Do you think this cut is right?" he would ask 
anxiously. "Please, friend, I urge you, don't cut if \ou think it 
isn't in the proper place." 

Kalman, whose artistic preference ran toward high!) 
decorative mtarsia panels which he did for his home, felt in turn 
the obligation to show how much he appreciated his friend's 

"Considering everything involved," he'd say ver) 
slowly, squinting his eyes and cocking his head sideways. **I think 
you have done right, Moholy ur." 

And the handsaw or the drill cut into the material 
carefully guided by Kalman's skilled hands. 

That morning in 1946, Kalman appeared at oar apart- 
ment around eight o'clock. Moholy looked white and his lips were 
bluish. In an attempt to keep him in bed, I warned him that I'd 
call the doctor. 

"Never say that again," Moholy said with a voice that 
was so cold that it seemed to come from a strange person* "Never 
threaten me again, or I'll go away," 

We carried the heavy sheets into the car, and when the 
students came to occupy the workshops, the ibree senlftores had 
been already cut. They were heated and bent <ferirag tbe foiowing 


"Art must be forgotten beauty mask be realked, 7 * 


fig, M. Inwted Cum, 1946. Plexiglass sculpture on black wood base. 

Mondrian had written to Moholy in 1939. The three sculptures 
were pieces of perfect beauty (Fig. 81). 

In November the Museum of Modern Art in New 
York asked for Moholy's participation in a "Conference on Indus- 
trial Design as a New Profession," For a few days, following the 
completion of the sculptures and some intensified work for the 
Parker Pen Company, Moholy seemed willing to cancel this en- 
gagement. Coming home from the Institute, powdered with plaster 
dust and his noise-sensitive nerves tortured by the din of drills, 
hammers, saws, and the voices of a thousand students, he lay on 
his bed, unable to sleep but equally unable to do anything else The 
trip to New York would be too much. On November 9 he attended 
a conference of some of the Board members, dealing with the 
remodeling of the school and the future enrollment policy. That 
night he came home late, but the deadly exhaustion was gone 
from his face. 

"I'm going to New York," he said. "I'm leaving 


"But you said yourself it would be too much of a 


"That was last week. I'm all right now, and I never 
knew as clearly as tonight that I have to go." 

"What happened?" 

"Nothing, nothing that hasn't happened before. They're 
all excellent men, these industrialists. They try to da the right 
thing by education, they say they understand it. But there is 
a basic misunderstanding; and I finally saw it. There's an insid- 
ious paternalism involved that strangles creative independence. 
'Don't worry, we'll take care of you artists; you serve us and 
we'll earn money for you.' Industry as the Great White Father 

of the arts!" w 

"A trip to New York won't change that. 
"I know, but it'll give me a chance to raaie one more 
statement about the place of art education. SomAow I have to 
make it clear that if there is such a rdbtioBship as gmtoee 
being guided it is industry that follows vision, and not vmm 
follows industry." 


Moholy didn't feel well the next day. I called his 
doctor, asking him to forbid the trip. But he didn't share my 
anxiety at all He ordered a blood count, which showed no appre- 
ciable increase in the number of white blood corpuscles, and he 
shrugged off the slight temperature Moholy was running every 
night. When I balked at making plane reservations, Moholy lost 
his temper. He felt that any interference on my part was obstructive 
and presumptuous. I tried to subdue my fear, which had grown 
into an irrational anticipation of imminent disaster. We hardly 
talked to each other until he left for New York. 

The "Conference on Industrial Design as a New Pro- 
fession," under the chairmanship of Dean Joseph Hudnut of 
Harvard University, was divided into two groups. As Moholy 
had foreseen, there were the representatives of "Design for Indus- 
try," and the others who thought of industry as an instrument to 
realize design. Both groups prided themselves on their pragmatism, 
but the pragmatic results were measured in different terms The 
artificial obsolescence policy found defenders who saw in an unend- 
ing stream of design variations a beneficial stimulus for a free 
economy. They were the specialists who talked in terms of voca- 
tional aptitude as the goal of all design education. When one of 
them accused Moholy of "dabbling in design," Moholy smiled 
happily : 

I love to dabble. That is what made me what I am today. I 
was educated as a lawyer, but because I dared to dabble with 
plastics and wood and so on, I gained a wide experience. 
Almost every educator, if he is sincere, tries to influence 
students to try the things he himself missed in his life or in 
his education. I was educated at a university as a so-called 
academist. That is how I found out I had a right to educate 
the senses of people. Today I am 25% a scholar, and 75% an 
artist and a what-not. 7 

And in the closing session he found formulations which stand as 
a lasting credo: 

Some day well grasp the confusion of the Industrial Revolu- 

7 From the Minutes of the "Conference on Industrial Design as a New 
Professbix," organized by the Department on Industrial Design, Edgar 
Kaufmans, Jr^ Chairman, of the Museum of Modern Art in New York 
{Mimeographed edition, New York, 1947). 


tion. On the one hand we make the people literate, and on th* 
other hand we take this literacy a\vay from them !>v mean*, of 
advertising, radio, and other forms of propaganda wlurh appeal 
to the lowest standards for profit's sake. 

Design is not a profession, it is an attitude the attitude of 
the planner Every high school in this country ha^ tatter equip- 
ment than we have or Harvard has. It is simply prodigious. 
And what do they do with it 9 Nothing. It is the spirit that 
determines the whole thing. We have to develop, step lij step. 
an educational procedure in which the creative abilities and 
capacities of young people are used. That would mean general 
education When any human being works with his hands, what- 
ever he does will be translated into the brain & knowledge 
This knowledge, m turn, will react on his emotional s_*|f. That 
is how a higher level of personality is achieved 

On the last day of the Conference he wrote in a letter. 

I feel excellent, better than I have m weeks. Although there 
were some nasty personal attacks at the conference, I knew 
that what I do in Chicago is right. And I loved yes Darling. 
I outrightly loved my fellow men who "dabble" like me 

Bob and Elizabeth [Wolff] gave a nice party for me tonight, 
Bob has developed very much in his painting, another proof 
of the clarifying impact of teaching and being taught by one's 

I know now that I'll weather the Chicago storm. I'm full of 
defiance and determination. . . . 

And in a conversation with Wolff that same night he said: tk l don't 
know yet about my paintings, but I'm proud of my life." 

When he came back from New York he was running 
a temperature of 101 degrees and he went straight to bed. Bwt he 
was up next morning to go to the Institute and to hold a faiult) 
meeting. The doctor maintained his professional optimism. "Don't 
worry, he has at least another five or six vears before him," be 
told me. "There are no alarming symptoms or changes." 

The Chicago Society for Contemporary Art had in- 
vited him to a lecture by S. L Hayakawa on "Semantics and 
Modern Art." Moholy felt that he was too tired to attend, hat he 
changed his mind when the lecturer caiecl up m the aftenHM, 


explaining that his talk would largely center around Moholy's 
work. His left leg dragged as we walked from the parking lot to 
the Art Institute, and his hands were ice-cold. 

"Now watch me," he said as we paused for a moment 
hefore mounting the steps leading to the entrance. "The greatest 
transformation trick of the century." 

He straightened his back, his gait became regular 
and youthfully elastic, and his face lighted up with a radiant 
smile. As we joined the crowd in the restaurant, there was no trace 
of sickness in Moholy's attitude. Only those who knew him closely 
wondered at the strange pallor of his skin. Hayakawa's lecture 
was a scholarly exposition of the common aim in the fundamental 
form-language of Constructivism and the search for a precise 
system of signs and symbols in general semantics. Moholy enjoyed 
it thoroughly. As we crossed the overpass above the tracks of the 
Illinois Central Railroad on our way to the parking lot, he sud- 
denly leaned against the railing. 

"There is an unconscious creativeness in the way mod- 
ern man has lighted up the night," he said, looking out over the 
Chicago skyline. "How I've loved city lights!" 

It was the past tense in his last sentence that remained 
fixed in my mind. 

His painting class the following night met in the 
auditorium of the Institute of Design to look at slides Moholy had 
selected. When he came home he complained about a strong pain 
in his left side. "No, don't call the doctor," he insisted. "It's noth- 
ing at all. I lifted the projector to put it in the right place. I strained 
a muscle. It'll be gone by tomorrow." 

When the doctor arrived in the morning, Moholy 
could no longer walk. 

"He has strained his spleen," was the medical diag- 
nosis. "Eight days rest on his back will heal it completely. A light 
cliet and lots of sleep will have a beneficial influence on his whole 

An hour kter Moholy had his first severe hemorrhage. 
By xfc%tt fee felt agonizing pain, radiating from his spine. No 
swHHit of morphine brought relief, and the injections to stop 
Weeding were without result. During the ride to the hospital I 

held him in my arms because his inflamed nerves could not stand 
the jarring and swaying of the ambulance, careening through the 
afternoon traffic. 

There was no single room available in the large prhate 
hospital to which he was taken, and there \vas no night nurse. The 
oxygen tent did not function and the blood transfusion clotted. A 
stream of relatives, doctors, and orderlies brushed by his bed in 
an emergency ward, while wide-open doors gave on a noisj 
corridor. It was like dying in Union Station. But Moholy was no 
longer aware of his surroundings. Breathing had become such a 
torture that it occupied all his attention. And there ^as an 
excruciating thirst after the heavy loss of blood. An old man 
brought a tray of food at regular intervals, and took it awa), 
untouched, with equal regularity. Another old man wrapped the 
body of the patient in the next bed in paper strips and carted it 
away. An oxygen pump supplying the victim of an apoplectic 
stroke in another bed hammered on day and night. Over every- 
thing lay the stench of a menagerie. 

Our children had been alone for two days. After a 
vigil of fifty hours I had to go home to look after them. When 
Moholy saw me in hat and coat he seemed to become wide a^vake. 

"Glasses," he whispered. And as I looked uncompre- 
hending, he repeated with a frown of impatience: "Glasses." 

I lifted the cellophane curtains of the oxygen tent 
sufficiently to put them on. 

"You go?" 

His eyes were of a new color, a deep pure blue that 
had an unknown depth. 

"I have to just for one night." 

His hand started to sweep slowly over the counterpane. 


He closed his eyes, exhausted from the strain of speak- 
ing. Then he repeated: "Work." 

I went down in the elevator, but I eoaWt fea?e the 
building. When I returned to the room, his bead kad sipped frwn 
the pillow and his glasses had fallen to the Sooc. 

I came back early next morning. H*ere was TO one *w 
attendance, and at first sight It looked as if Mofeoly had dtaL His 


face had changed completely the bone structure showed through 
the yellowish skin, and his hair, which had been gray, had turned 
snow-white over night. 

As I called his name he opened his eyes, and a smile 
of indescribable softness spread over his face. It was as if a 
myriad of small reflecting waves had shattered the surface of a 
very dark sea. For a moment all his features were liveliness and 

"You're back!" 

It was almost inaudible. And after a long pause, still 
smiling: "I'll make it. Don't go again." 

His lips were dried out, with deep gashes. 

"Are you thirsty?" 

"Terribly thirsty." 

No one had cared to ask him while I had been at home. 

Unquestioned by anyone in the long, crowded cor- 
ridors I took a tea-bag from a breakfast tray and found a pantry 
with a gas cooker. I made some tea, and from a straw dropped 
it into his mouth. It revived his breathing as if the hot liquid had 
refilled his empty veins. 

"Hungarian last night lovely " he whispered, 
referring to the visit of his Hungarian doctor. "Only Hungarian " 

He closed his eyes, and I thought back over many 
years to Sergei Eisenstein's words: "One dies in one's own lan- 
guage, they say," spoken to a young and powerful man who had 
had nothing but scorn for the death-awareness of his friend. 


Moholy breathed with tremendous difficulty, pushing 
air from his lips as if it were lead. 

I raised the head end of the hospital bed as high as 
the mechanism would permit, but within minutes it increased the 
re$fcle$saes$. Slowly I lowered his head, and for a few minutes it 
brought relief. 

* "Higher" 

With slow turns of the crank I fpllowed his restless 
strangely aware that it was a cradling motion that rocked 


With a last immense effort he turned his head 
fiom the light. 

"Aludni " 

The air around his bed filled vuth a UMMOH that 
eclipsed my being. There was no sadness, no grief, no fear, \\heri 
it was over and his jaw fell, there was total nothingness 

It was November the twenty-fourth, nineteen hundred 
and forty-six. 



(Italicized numerals refer to illustrations.) 

Acropolis, 93, 35 

Albers, J., 39, 152 

Alexander, Dr F., 184, 185 

American Abstract Artists, 207 

Anderson, Margaret, 147 

Archipenko, A , 161 

Architecture, 33, 34, 91-95, 171, 227 

Arp, J , 22, 113, 154 

Association of Arts and Industries, 

139, 145, 150, 156, 157, 159, 

161, 176, 214, 216 
Atomic Bomb, 229, 77 
Avery, S, 139 

Bacharach, W., 167 

Bakimm, M, 233, 234 

Ball, H., 22 

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, 209 

Barr, A. H., 168 

Bartm, G. E , 185 

Bartok, B , 231 

Bauhaus, Germany, 5, 32-47, 70, 88, 
108, 116, 145, 157, 164, 166, 170, 
176, 192, 193, 204, 218, 219 

Bauhaus Ballet, 53 

Bauhaus Books, 37-38, 16 

Bauhaus Stage, 53, 54 

Bayer, H , 46, 68, 153, 154, 215 

Bergen, Edgar, 191 

"Berlin StiU Life," 75 

Betjeman, J, 127 

Bielawsky, E., 170 

Black Mountain College, 59 

Blaae Reiter, Der, 5, 17 

Blum, A. V, 79 

Brancusi, K., 113, 114, 137 

Bredendieck, H , 38, 152, 161 

Breuer, M., 38, 46, 95, 123, 137 

Broom, 5 

Brucke, 17 

Bruhning, H., 88 

Buck Neiier Kiinstler, 21, 33 

Budapest, 7, 12, 15, 133, 134 

"Cabaret Voltaire," 22, 27 

Camouflage, 183, 60 

Carnegie Corporation, 159, 187 

Carr, E H., 2a3, 234 

Cezanne, P , 206 

Chagall, M , 12 

Cheney, S , 140 

Chicago Society of Contemporary 

Art, 243 

Children's Class, 171, 172 
CIAM, 90-95, 116 

Cincinnati Contemporary Art* So- 
ciety, 207, 214, 224, 225 
Citroen, P., 35, 39, 41 
Collage, 15, 16, 22, 25, 27, 59, 4 
Collectivism, 195 
Color, 12, 15, 18, 195, 231 
Commercial Design, 118, 119, 120, 

121, 122, 163, 209, 210, 211, 

212, 11, 17, 24, 25, 40, 41, 42, 4i, 

44, .54, 7,3, 74 
Communism, 14, 77, 87, 88 
Conference on Industrial Design, 

1946, 241-243 
Constructivism, 13, 17-21, 30-35, 43, 

69, 107-109, 153, 194, 206 
Constructivism and Semantics, 153, 

Council for a Democratic Hungary, 

Chicago, 98, 189 
Courtauld, 123 
Crowther, J. J 135, 44 
Cuhism, 5, 12, 18, 27, 29, 192, W 
Curjel, H, 49 
Curriculum Batiiiatss, Germany, 33, 

34, 38, 46, 47 

New Baahaas, Oiieag, 14&15& 
School of Design, Oiicagfc, M4* 

165, 17, 171, 17, m 

Dadaism, 22-27, 301, MS 
De Mafcdtot* Ma*-. *&. ^ 
0e Putt* it, 115 

De Stijl, 5 

Dewey, John, 167 

Diaghilev Ballet, 4 

Duchamp, M., 4 

Dun and Bradstreet, 157 

Dushkin, D,, 161 

Eastman Kodak, 158 

Eckart, C., 161, 166 

Eggelmg, V., 4 

Ehrmann, M., 171 

Einstein, A., 34 

Eisenstem, S, 4, 97, 98, 246 

Eton, 117, 125, 127, 130, 45 
Evans, Myfanwy, 135 
Exhibition Design, 40, 50, 73 
Expressionism, 12, 17, 34, 35, 192 

Femmger, L , 34, 35 

Fergusson, B., 127 

Field, M., 139 

Fihjxwski, R., 175-176 

Finland, 62 

Foundation Course, 38, 39, 152, 170 

Frankfurter Zeitung, 32 

Futurism, 99-103, 194 

Gabo, Naum, 4 

Gehag exhibition, 68 

Gerard, R., 161, 166 

Giedion, S., 34, 75, 77, 90, 154, 227 

Giedion-Welcker, C., 234 

Goebbels, J., 57 

Goethe, J. W., von, 85, 105 

Goring, H^ 57 

Greece, 91-95, 35 

Gropms, W, 4, 33-37, 46, 53, 139, 

150, 162, 167 
Guggenheim, S. R^ 208 
Gypsies, 78-84, 33 

Bayakawa, S. L, 243 
Heap, J^ 147 
Heme, H^ 233 
Heliim, J-, 153, 154, 215 
, B., 135, 136 
, Hin und Zuruck, 50, 21, 

P. von, 

Hitler, A , 57, 58, 88, 89, 132 
Hudnut, J-, 167, 242 
Huelsenbeck, R., 22 
Huxley, J , 135, 137, 167 

"/ 10," 5 

I G Farben, 57 

Imperial Airways, 119, 120, 130, 41 

Impressionism, 108 

Institute of Design, 151, 214-224, 


Inventions, 175, 56 
Isokon, 123 
Itten, J., 34, 35 

Jewell, A., 162 

Kandmsky, W., 18, 34, 35 
Karolyi, Count M , 189 
Kassak, L, 21, 33 
Kaufmann, Edgar, Jr., 242 
Keck, G, F., 166, 171 
Kemeny, A , 43, 44 
Kepes, G., 62, 119, 161, 166, 168, 
169, 170, 171, 175, 178, 184, 215 
Keppel, F , 159, 187 
Klee, P., 34, 35, 38 
Klemperer, 0., 49 
Korda, A , 125, 126, 129 
Krolloper, 49, 57 
Krueger, M , 172 
Kuh, K., 207 
Kulturbolschewismus, 47, 58, 99, 133 

Kunstblatt, Das, 43 

La Sarraz, 75-78, 37, 32 

Le Corbusier, 4, 77, 90-95 

Leaf Paintings, 202-204, 69, 70 

Legal, E , 49 

Leger, F., 4, 79, 95, 176, 215 

"Life of the Lobster," 125, 130 

Light, 11, 27, 30, 66, 69, 70, 83, 

198, 199 
Light Modulator, 130, 199, 201, 202, 

205, 48, 58, 67, 68, 70, 71 
Light-display Machine, 64, 66-67, 26 
"Light-Play Black-White-Gray," 60- 
61, 79, 129 


Line, 10, 231, 1, 2 

Lissitzky, El, 4, 29 

Litt/e Review, The, 147, 164 

London Gallery, 135, 137, 50 

London Transport, 119, 130, 134, 42 

MA, 5, 19, 33, 43 

Madame Butterfly, 55, 57, 125, 23 

Malevich, K , 4, 29, 30, 192 

Man Ray, 27, 79 

Marc, F , 12 

Marmetti, F. T , 99-103 

MARS Group, 77, 135 

Marshall, J , 187 

Mathias, J , 126 

Mazdaznan Sect, 21, 24 

Mehring W, Merchant of Berlin, 


MERZ, 22, 24, 101 
Metal Workshop, 35, 38, 47, 204, 17 
Meyer, H , 45 
Mies van der Rohe, L., 47 
Mills College, 180, 181, 207, 58 
Moholy-Nagy, C., 129, 191 
Moholy-Nagy, H., 95, 96, 191, 36 
Moholy-Nagy, L., quotations on. 
Amateurism, 117, 118, 242 
Americans, 141 

Architecture and Planning, 227 
Art Education, 137, 148-150, 164, 
165 170, 188, 218, 237, 242, 243 
Arts and Society, 12, 18-19, 70, 71, 

87, 188, 214, 236 
Bakunm, 234, 
Bauhaus, 46, 47 
Chicago, 143, 144, 218 
Color, 106 

Color Photography, 104-106 
Communism, 14 
Composition, 15 
Commercial Design, 110 
Constructivism, 19, 21, HI, W 
England, 117, 118 
Fear, 82 
Guggenheim Foundation, 207, 208 

Integration, 154, 155 
Isms, 108 
La Sarraz, 77 
Lecturing, 213 

Moholy-Nagy, L < ( imtinued i 

Light, 11, 12, 199 

Line, 10 

Motion Picture, 83, 81 

New York, 141, 113 

Occupational Therap), 184, IB."? 

Opera, 49, 50 

Personality, 90 

Photogram, 27. 71 

Photography, 27, 28, 10H06 

Plagiarism, 43 

Religion, 233 

Specialization, 46, 17, 215 

Theater, 53 

Transparency, 18 

Typography, 37, 123 
Moholy-Nagy, Lucia, 21 22 
Moholy-Nagy, Portraits, tf, K >/, 

Mondrian, P., 4, 34, 113, HI 116, 

154, 176, 193. 241 
Moore, H., 135, 215 
Morris, Ou 153, 161. 166 
Motion Picture, 28, 69, 70, 74, 78-84, 


Mozart, Marriage of Figaro 50 
Muhsam, E., 85, 86 
Museum of Modern \rt, 1**, 16B, 

241, 242 

Museum of Non-Objective* Ptinting, 
207, 208 

Mussolini, B-, 99 

Neoplasticism, 34, 115, 116, 1921% 
Neue JUwe, 0, 62, 24 
Neumeyer, A^ W 
New Architecttire in the 

Zoo, 82, 125, 134 
New Bauhaus, Tke, 151-163, 

170, 116 

Newhall, B. 228 
Newtoa, U ^ 
^etc Forfe Ti^es, W 
B n 135, 136 

, M7, 

Mrs. CL, 13S 
W. W, 1 


Occupational Therapy, 183-185 
Offenbach, Tales 0} Hoffmann, 49, 

19, 20 

Olympic Games, 1936, 117, 131-133 
Opera, 49, 50, 56, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 
Ossietzky, C. von, 85-88 
Oiid. J. J. P-, 34 
Oude Kirk, HO 
Oxford University Chest, 127, 130 

Paepcke, W., 139, 177, 213 

Paris, 113-116 

Parker Pen Company, 210, 211, 226, 

228, 241, 74 
Pearl Harbor, 182, 183 
Peri, 43 
Petdfi, 7 

Photogram, 25, 27, 28, 71, 11, 12, 29 
Photography, 22, 27-29, 109, 125, 8, 

30, 35 

Photography, color, 104-106 
Photomontage, 24, 9, 11, 18 
Picasso, P., 4 
Piper, J., 135 
Piscator, E, 50 
Prestini, J., 178 
Pritchard, J., 135, 137 
Purism, 12 

Raphael, 0., 175 

Rapson, R., 209, 227 

Rayon Industry Exhibition, 106, 111, 

112, 40 

Read H, 135, 137 
Refoay, H. von, 208 
Rhoades, N., 211 
Richter, H n 79 

Rockefeller Foundation, 187, 219 
Photographic Society, 125 

Sat&rd&y Evening Post, 186 
Sc&nd, ., 27 
ScWrer, R., 17, 5 

y, Xanti, 38, 46, 154 
A., 161, 166, 170 
Sc&fewsr, 0^ 34, 53 
Sdwdt, P. F, 43 

of Design, 166488, 213 

Schwitters, K., 22, 24, 25, 29, 100- 

Sculpture, 113, 114, 191, 232, 237, 

239, 15, 80, 81 

Sculpture, Mobile, 204-206, 71, 72 
Semantics, 153, 244 
Seng, F. J., 186 
Sert, J. L., 91 
Siegel, A , 228 
Simpson, Piccadilly, 119-123, 125, 

131, 134, 43 
Smith, H. H , 161 
Smythe Report, 229 
Socialism, 19 
Sommer, Dr. K., 185 
Somonauk Summer Camp, 177-179, 

181, 182, 57, 59 
Spiegel, F., 161, 165, 178 
Stage Design, 49-56, 19, 20, 21, 22, 


Stable, N. K, 140 
Stedelijk Museum, 106, 108, 110 
Stevens, D , 187 
"Street Markets of London, The,' 

82, 134, 46 

Sturm, Der, 5, 31, 59, 14 
Suprematism, 4, 29, 43, 192, 194, 


Surrealism, 5, 108 
Sweeney, J. J., 142, 153 
Switzerland, 75 
Symbolists, 17 

Talbot, H. F , 27 

Taylor, C., 217 

Tecton Architects, 134 

Telehor, 125 

"Things to Come," 125, 127, 130, 47 

Tobis, 57 

Toman, Kalman, 186, 237, 238 

"Total Theater," 53-55 

Typography, 24, 37, 62, 104, 106, 

123, 144, 163, 10, 16, 41, 42, 

44, 53 

Tzara, T., 22 

United States Gypsum Co., 209, 210 


"Unity of Science" Movement, 152 Webber, Gordon, 171 

Weehf, H., 226 

Van Doesburg, Th , 4 Weimar Republic, 56 

Van Gogh, V , 10 Wdtbiihne, & 

Vantongerloo, 113 Werfel, F, 34 

Voltaire, 117, 233 Westheim, P., 43 

Vossische Zeitung, 31 ^iley, Ch., 227 

Wolff, R. J., 166, 16#, 171. 178, 243 

Walden, H., 31 "^ood Springs," 183, 186, 61 
Waldheim, J , 175, 186, 61 

Warner, Lloyd W,, 172 Yoder, R., 186 
Washington, D.C , 215 

Water Color, 16, 18, 231, 6, 7, 34, 79 Zervos, C , 90